OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature needed two special sessions to agree to a budget, in large part because of disagreements over how much to spend on public schools. But a special legislative committee needed only about six minutes Tuesday to tell the state Supreme Court that the budget is meeting a mandate to do a better job of paying for education.
With only three members in the room and the remainder connected by telephone, the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation unanimously approved a report that lists four major increases in state money going to school districts over the next two years:
• $374 million extra for materials, supplies and operating costs
• $131.7 million extra for buses and other transportation costs
• $103.6 million extra for smaller kindergarten and first-grade classes in high-poverty schools
• $90 million extra for all-day kindergarten.
It’s part of a total increase of $982 million to be spent on public schools in the 2013-15 biennium.
Last summer, the state Supreme Court ruled in what’s commonly known as the McCleary decision that the state was not meeting what the constitution says in Article IX is its paramount duty, “the education of all children.”
The Legislature had approved improvements to the schools over the years but failed to pay for them, the court said. It gave legislators until 2018 to fix the system but required regular updates on progress. A special committee, with members of both parties from both chambers, was set up to provide those updates.
This year was the first in which the Legislature was writing a full two-year budget under the court’s mandate.
Plaintiffs have until the end of September to respond to the report and point out any shortcomings they see in what the Legislature did or didn’t do.
The Supreme Court will review everything and is expected to comment in December whether the Legislature is making enough progress on the mandate to adequately fund public schools.