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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In my role as ranking member of the House Education Committee, I've been involved in the center of the discussions over the state Supreme Court rulings on the McCleary decision and charter schools. Both of these issues will likely dominate the 2016 legislative session.
I've been privileged to attend some of the seven statewide listening tours on education funding, held in September and October by the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. This has given the public additional opportunities to provide input as we move forward on these important issues.
I'd like to take this opportunity to provide a brief update on McCleary and charter schools, and a preview of how we may move forward.
Governor convenes McCleary workgroup
In my last update to you, I noted that the state Supreme Court had issued contempt sanctions on Aug. 13 against the state in the amount of $100,000 a day until the Legislature delivers an education funding plan that satisfies the court and shows how the state will fully fund education by 2018. I also said levy reform may be a key part of the puzzle as we approach the 2016 legislative session. A lot has happened since then.
In September, Gov. Inslee named me and seven other legislators, Republicans and Democrats from both the House and Senate, to his McCleary Work Group. (See the KING 5 story here.) The purpose of the group is to create an education funding plan that will satisfy the remaining requirements of the McCleary decision.
Formulating a plan
We have met several times to create a framework of ideas from each of the caucuses that can be developed into a plan for the Legislature to present to the state Supreme Court. From those meetings, I identified three primary goals to satisfy the McCleary requirements:
- Eliminate unconstitutional dependency on local levies for the state's program of basic education;
- Provide ample state funding to offer competitive salary and benefits in every school; and
- Minimize disruptive impact to school districts and teachers.
These goals have been well received by the workgroup as we determine how to move forward.
Levy reform (including the possibility of some type of “levy swap,” as I had described in my previous e-newsletter) certainly remains a priority as we move forward. However, there's still much information that needs to be gathered before the Legislature can make an informed decision concerning teacher compensation, supplemental funding for each school, and identifying a stable funding source to address expenditures for basic education.
A workable timeline that gets it right
All of these things will take time to get it done correctly. So my fellow Republican House member on the McCleary workgroup, Rep. Norma Smith, and I have created a proposed timeline we have given to the workgroup that looks like this:
- 2016 session: Commit to a timeline of fully funding education. Fund and implement an interim research and data collection project to get a better idea of our spending commitment.
- 2016 interim: Research the scope of statewide spending commitments; determine from an independent consultant the amount of additional pay in each of the 295 school districts that can be correctly identified as basic education supplementation (including supplemental contracts permitted under current and past bargaining agreements) and recommend adjustments for local labor markets.
- 2017 session: Pass enacting legislation for state and local levy reforms; introduce new salary allocation model for educational staff.
- Jan. 1, 2018: Transition to the new salary allocation model.
Let's remember the state Supreme Court set 2018 as the deadline to have our work on McCleary completed, and with this proposed timeline, we are on target to meet that date. The reason the court imposed sanctions is because the Legislature failed to provide a plan acceptable to the court that shows how it completes the McCleary requirements. The 2016 session will give us the opportunity to better determine the scope of our spending commitments and provide a workable plan that clearly shows to the court the timeline of how we will carry it out. Once an acceptable plan is in place, the court would likely lift the sanctions.
Restoring charter schools in Washington
On Sept. 4, just days before the new school year began, the state Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer-funded charter schools are unconstitutional, reasoning that charters are not truly public schools because they aren't governed by elected boards. Therefore, wrote Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, “money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools.”
The minority opinion argued that the same glitch the high court says disqualifies public charter schools from receiving public funding could also de-fund Running Start, tribal compact schools, schools for the deaf and blind, and any other public school program that isn't directly supervised by an elected board.
All of this creates a potentially huge problem of unintended consequences, not to mention the enormous uncertainty for the state's nine charter schools and the 1,300 students who attend them.
As I noted in an opinion piece I wrote to The Seattle Times, “The court's ruling is flawed, disruptive and unfair to families who deserve more choices when it comes to public education.”
This is not a partisan issue. In fact, legislators from both parties are upset with the decision, including Seattle Democratic Rep. Eric Pettigrew, who also wrote an opinion piece, saying, “It incenses me that for the sake of some traditional principle, the court, the union and other traditional education organizations chose to take away what might have been these kids' only shot.” Pettigrew noted those most affected “are primarily children of color, who live in our state's most impoverished communities.”
Several days ago, I joined with nine of my other legislative colleagues in a legal brief supporting the state Attorney General's request for the court to reconsider its decision. I believe this is especially important, given that its opinion may put other programs with commingled public/private funds at risk. You can read the full press release here.
In the meantime, Rep. Pettigrew and I are working together to develop legislation for the 2016 session that would address the constitutional issues of public funding for charter schools in Washington.
Listen to my podcast interviews
I was recently interviewed by the Freedom Foundation and the Washington Research Council about the McCleary case and charter schools. I invite you to listen online to these podcasts:
Freedom Daily with Jeff Rhodes
Policy Today with Mary Strow
Listen to all of my podcasts and radio interviews on SoundCloud.
As we move forward, I welcome your thoughts on these or other legislative issues. My contact information can be found below.
Thank you for allowing me the honor to serve and represent you.
427 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7876 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000