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Lege panel to court: We’re spending $982 million more on schools

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Although the Legislature needed two special sessions to agree to a budget, in large part because of disagreements over how much to spend on public schools, a special legislative committee needed only about six minutes Tuesday to tell the state Supreme Court that budget is meeting a mandate to adequately fund 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 listed 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 transportation costs
  • $103.6 million extra for smaller kindergarten and Grade 1 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. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

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 lists in Article IX as its paramount duty, "the education of all children" with the Legislature providing for "a general and uniform system of public schools." 

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 give the court those updates.

This year was the first in which the Legislature was writing a full two-year budget under the court's mandate, and many of the debates revolved around how much extra to spend on education, and how it should be spent. Along with the four increases for programs specified in previous legislation that the court said wasn't adequately funded, the report also notes the state will spend $143 million extra on the Learning Assistance Program, $97 million extra to increase the time in students spend in school, $24 million for better counselors and $19 million for a new program to help students after they leave the Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit -- who include some parents of children in public schools and a coalition of community and education organizations and school districts -- 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 it and is expected to comment in December whether the Legislature is making enough progress on the mandate to adequately fund public schools. What form that might take is unclear.

"We're kind of in uncharted legal territory," said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle and the co-chairmanof the committee. Although the court didn't order the state to spend money on improvements, it is asking for a road map to measure the Legislature's progress, he said.

To read the full report, click on the document below.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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