This guest column was published in the Eatonville Dispatch, June 8, 2016.
By Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville
The state Legislature adjourned its 2016 session on March 29. Since that time, I’ve had a number of local school officials and constituents ask me about progress toward fully funding our public schools. I thought it might be helpful to provide both a recap of and road map for this issue.
In 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature was not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide for public schools. This ruling came in the case of McCleary v. State of Washington – usually shortened to “McCleary” by legislators and education leaders, in case you’ve heard that term and wondered what it means.
The current school-funding system has local districts relying heavily on levies (meaning voters, and local taxpayers) to make up for state underfunding. This has led to inequitable levels of opportunity for students between neighboring school districts, as well as pay disparities for staff.
Over the past four years, the Legislature has put $4.6 billion more toward education.
In 2016, we created an Education Funding Task Force. Its job will be to define “basic education,” learn how much each local school district is paying for basic education (especially things that should be paid for at the state level), and ensure that our public-school employees are properly compensated.
The Education Funding Task Force is made up of a representative from the governor’s office and Democrats and Republicans from both the Senate and House of Representatives. This task force has met twice since the Legislature adjourned. On April 20, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction laid the groundwork for their mission and gave a presentation on current school district reporting and accounting procedures. At the May 11 meeting, the procedure for selecting a consultant to analyze public school staff compensation, as well as salary trends and data elements, were discussed. The next meeting is scheduled for June 8.
Also on May 11, there was a meeting to adopt the “progress report” that was sent to the Supreme Court. Although the Legislature is on course to meet the timetable set by the court in its initial McCleary ruling, the justices have insisted on tracking this matter at intervals (and have made it clear they think lawmakers should be moving faster).
All legislative committees post meeting schedules, meeting documents and TVW links. You may visit leg.wa.gov to follow the progress yourself.
Education funding is a big – and sometimes contentious – topic. Our goals are to ensure that every kid in Washington has access to a great education, regardless of where she or he lives. While there is still a long way to go toward a solution, much has been done already. There are a lot of moving parts and we need to proceed thoughtfully.
The upcoming legislative session (it begins in January 2017) will see many of the final puzzle pieces put into place. Stay tuned.
Randi Becker, a Republican from Eatonville, is the state senator from the Second Legislative District that includes south Pierce County.