Education funding in Washington state: A history lesson and Constitutional mandate | 2015 Session

According to Article IX of the Washington State Constitution, the state’s “paramount duty” is to provide an “ample” and “uniform” education for all children.

According to Article IX of the Washington State Constitution, the state’s “paramount duty” is to provide an “ample” and “uniform” education for all children.

In 1977, Judge Robert Doran ruled that the state was in violation of the Constitution because school districts were relying on local special levies to fund a large portion of the costs of the education system. The Legislature that year responded by passing the Basic Education Act, which defined what the state would pay for in terms of education; and the Levy Lid Act, which limited local levies to 10 percent of a school district’s budget.

Over time, however, the Legislature has raised the levy lid. As in the 1970s, property tax levies again are being used to pay a large share of the costs of the education system in many school districts.

In 2007, a group of parents and school districts filed McCleary et al v. State of Washington, alleging the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to amply fund a uniform system of education.

In 2009, the Legislature passed House Bill 2261, which created a process for defining a fully state funded “Prototypical School Model” by 2018. A year later, the Legislature passed HB 2776, committing the state to funding four parts of the model:

— Full funding of student transportation
— Full funding of materials, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC) 
— Funding for all-day Kindergarten
— Lowering class sizes in grades K-3 to 17:1

The state did make progress in funding these commitments during the 2013-15 biennial budget, but funding HB 2776 would only satisfy part of the McCleary mandate. Thousands of school district staff are still being paid with levy funds.

The Supreme Court ruled on McCleary in January 2012. In a unanimous decision, the Court found that:

— The state was in violation of the Constitution
— Relying on local levies to fund basic education is unconstitutional

Following the process created by HB 2261, and funding a Prototypical School Model based on previous education research, the court noted the pair of actions would “remedy the deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.”

In addition, the court retained jurisdiction of the case to monitor the state’s progress.

In September 2014, the court ruled the state was in contempt for failing to comply with a previous court order, which required the state to submit a “complete plan for fully implementing” funding for the prototypical model “for each school year between now and the 2017-18 school year.”

If the Legislature does not adopt such a plan by adjournment of the 2015 legislative session, the court intends determine whether it would impose sanctions or remedial measures. The court would also review any funding plan adopted by the Legislature to see that it met the court’s requirements.

Complicating the Legislature’s task this session is the effect Initiative 1351 may have on achieving the fully-funded education goal. That initiative was approved by voters in November 2014 and requires a smaller class size than in the Legislature’s remedial proposals and the Supreme Court’s mandate. Further, the initiative did not contain a funding resource leaving local school districts and the state’s budget masters to determine how or if it should be implemented, and how to pay for it.

— This article was prepared by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and updated by WNPA Olympia News Bureau Reporter Alice Day.