I’ve never really felt bad for politicians. Ever. I mean, they’re the ones who sign up and run for what often seems to be either a fool’s errand or sure-lose proposition or worse (cue “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” minus the fairy-tale ending) …
But Washington state legislators are in a tough spot right now and it’s not getting any easier. Last week, state Supreme Court justices scolded those same lawmakers for disregarding their orders about public school funding. In the 2012 McCleary decision, the court found the Legislature is not meeting a constitutional responsibility to fully pay for basic education and the state is relying too much on local tax-levy dollars to balance the education budget.
That much is clear. What’s not clear — and made abundantly clear by the Supreme Court last week — is how murky is that next step. According to an Everett Herald story, state Supreme Court justices on Sept. 3 talked about handing down punishments to lawmakers, from handing out stern warnings (look out!) to holding off until the 2015 legislative session plays out (kick the proverbial can!) to invalidating tax breaks to bring in revenue for schools (just in time for mid-term elections!).
One justice estimated nixing those tax breaks would bring in about $30 billion. Senior Assistant Attorney General Alan Copsey said sanctions aimed at impelling legislators toward resolving the school funding issue may compel those elected officials to push back against the court.
“What you propose (with stemming off the tax breaks) would certainly be an efficient remedy,” Copsey said in an Associated Press report, adding, “I don’t think it would be a constitutional remedy.”
And how’s this for timing? The first charter school in Washington state opened this month. First Place Scholars has transitioned from a private school to charter school. According to a Seattle Times story, “while the mission of the K-5 school is to provide education and services for children and their families, First Place is also carrying the hopes of many education reform advocates that small, mission-focused schools can achieve better results for disadvantaged students than traditional schools.”
Time will tell regarding charter schools, but with more than 1 million students in public elementary, middle, junior and high schools, more than 55,000 public school teachers (100,000-plus including aides, administrators and others) and K-12 funding representing about 44 percent of the state’s $30.8 billion general fund (2013 figures), it’s critical legislators find the solution to the McClearly question, and soon.
Reach Sequim Gazette editor Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.