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Editorial: Legislators heading for inexcusable cram session

Carter McCleary was in second grade when the lawsuit on basic education was filed in his family’s name. He just graduated from high school, and the funding issue has yet to be resolved.

The Washington Legislature is in its second special session and is in danger of forcing a partial government shutdown on July 1 because it cannot agree on a budget. Education funding is the hold-up.

The deadline to fully fund basic education is September 2018. The state Supreme Court based the deadline on a bill the Legislature passed in 2009. To meet that goal, lawmakers must finish the job this summer.

In 2010, lawmakers passed another bill that committed the state to full funding for student transportation, materials, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC) and all-day kindergarten. Lawmakers have made significant progress on those fronts, but they cannot agree on the way to accomplish the toughest step of all: funding teacher salaries without a heavy reliance on local property tax levies.

It’s too late for legislators to say they’ve responded to the basic education issue in a timely manner. The state lost the McCleary case five years ago and has been in contempt of court for three years.

It’s even too late for them to present a final plan that school districts and the general public would have time to digest and understand before final passage. If the Legislature were to announce a plan on Monday morning, that would leave a grand total of four days before the second special session ends.

Remember, lawmakers aren’t just coming up with a budget for the next two years, they are transforming how the state will fund basic education for the foreseeable future. Every student, teacher, administrator and taxpayer will be affected.

It’s not unusual for legislators to go into budget showdown mode, often pulling all-nighters at the finish. We haven’t liked it, because the public doesn’t know what occurred until legislative leaders come out and deliver post-mortems.

But to pull a cram session on something as momentous and far-reaching as education funding is a dereliction of their duty.

What will be the sustainable revenue source to fully fund education? Will the state property tax change? Will the internet sales tax be expanded? Will tax breaks be rescinded? Will any or all financing go to the public for a vote? What if that vote fails? Will other agencies take cuts to free up money for education? What will teacher pay look like? What powers will school districts surrender or retain?

That’s a lot to decide, and lawmakers have had several years and two special sessions to do so. Instead, both sides are playing chicken. Either the problem will be resolved at the last minute or the state will go into a third session, which would trigger a partial government shutdown when the fiscal year ends on June 30.

This dilemma points to a failure of leadership.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”


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