By Daniel Zavala, LEV Director of Policy and Government Relations
In what was quite literally years in the making, the Legislature has at long last presented and passed a K-12 funding solution. And, perhaps surprisingly in today’s political climate, it was passed with strong bipartisan support. Before I get into the details of the solution, let me spend some time talking about how we got to where we are… and it starts with a 2007 lawsuit called McCleary. The lawsuit was largely based on the inequities across districts resulting from disproportionate use and allocation of local levy money. Basically, the plaintiffs argued the state was not amply paying for basic education, something that is a paramount duty of the state. Fast forward to 2012… and the Washington Supreme Court agreed. Forward another few years, a couple of court orders, imposed sanctions on the legislature, and we arrive at the 2017 Legislative Session – the last regular session to address the court order to address the McCleary decision. What was left after the last 5 years was the need to continue progress on funding K-3 class size reduction and teacher compensation.
But most of us already know this saga and are frankly ready to hear the solution… or we are wondering what all the commotion around Olympia these days is about. Well, here are the high level details of the K-12 plan:
- Overall some significant advances were made, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
- Regarding funding, the legislature made historic increased investments in education.
- Although the legislature directed some additional funding to programs for historically underserved students, the needs and opportunity gaps are vast. There is some promise with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) receiving funds to identify key methods to do so using new data collection.
- The prototypical funding formula (the state’s method of funding schools based on a school design to determine the number of teachers, principals, and other school staff that are needed to provide a basic education) will remain intact. Although a key source of inequity, the staff mix formula (paying districts based on the experience level of their teachers) was eliminated, some steps that might have modernized the funding formula to target funds and address the complex needs of some of the most at-risk student populations (such as special education students) were not adopted.
- Auditing compliance and enforcement will be key to ensure we don’t get back to where we started – e.g. paying educators much more in property-rich districts. After all, policy is only as good as its implementation.
- The agreement minimally addresses accountability, but there are other mechanisms under development to ensure our education system produces good results.
Want to know the deeper details of the plan? Take a look at our McCleary Agreement Overview and Analysis.
Okay, so if you are still with me, whether it is actually 5 years later or, after trying to digest all of that information it feels like 5 years, you likely have two questions remaining:
- Does this solution pass constitutional muster, i.e. will we have made the court happy?
- What does all this mean and what is next?
As to the first question, only the nine justices that sit in that high court can properly answer that question. However, in their order they noted that the K-12 funding had to be regular and dependable in addressing K-3 class size reduction and teacher compensation. There is strong evidence to suggest this plan does that.
As to the second question, that answer is far more complex and probably better suited over another LEVinar or post(s). But in short, it means that our state may be moving on to the next stage of education advocacy in this state — from Does this satisfy McCleary? to What do we need to do to address the growing gaps in our system between historically underserved students and their college-bound peers?