Racing to meet a deadline set by the state Supreme Court, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law at 11 pm on June 30 a state budget that includes a $7.3 billion increase over four years for education. Inslee stated that “This budget, at long last, meets our constitutional obligations to fully fund basic education, and addresses the responsibilities we have under the McCleary decision to equitably fund our schools.” However, Thomas Ahearne, the attorney for plaintiffs in the McCleary case, said that the state’s funding plan falls far short of what the Supreme Court has ruled is the need for ample funding of all the costs to provide basic education. “I don’t think the elected officials are lying,” he said. “I think they just don’t know what they are talking about.”
The complicated school funding compromise will raise property taxes in some areas and lower them in other areas, especially in rural Washington. Additional revenues will also come from creating an online sales tax, and removing tax breaks on bottled water and a sawmill exemption that was taken over by oil refineries.
A number of school districts and advocacy groups have spoken out against the deal, questioning the use of local housing costs as the basis for calculating cost of living differences, and whether the budget money will kick in early enough to meet court requirements; they argue that the Supreme Court’s target of one teacher per 17 students in Grades K-3 will not be met on schedule.
The Court has found the state in contempt of past orders and has ordered monetary fines as a sanction. (See Washington litigation page for details regarding the Court’s compliance orders.) The judges ordered the state to enact necessary reforms to be implemented by 2018 in the 2017 legislative session, and required the state to submit a report discussing the steps it has taken to comply with outstanding court orders by July 31, 2017. Plaintiffs may then submit any objections they may have to that report. Thereafter, the Court will decide if the state has met its compliance requirements.