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Supreme Court to decide what's next in McCleary school funding case

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Group on the steps
WEA leaders on the steps of the Washington Supreme Court.

On Sept. 7, Carter McCleary, his mother and 20 WEA leaders attended the Washington Supreme Court’s latest hearing on the school funding case called the McCleary decision.

The McClearys and the Venema family are the lead plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2007 by a large coalition that includes WEA and many local associations. The premise is simple: Under the Washington Constitution, it is the state’s paramount duty to amply fund a quality basic education for all children, regardless of where they live or their family background.

Yet, as WEA members know firsthand, the state is not fully funding crucial needs like smaller class sizes in every grade, additional support professionals and competitive salaries for teachers and other school employees.

During the September court hearing, McCleary attorney Tom Ahearne accused the state of “running out the clock” on fully funding K-12 schools by the 2018 deadline established by the Legislature and the court. “There’s only one year left,” he said.

The state’s attorney argued the state has made progress, but pleaded with the court to trust that the 2017 Legislature would adopt a plan for fully funding basic education. He admitted the state is not funding competitive, professional base salaries for teachers and support professionals.

“Where is the money going to come from? That is the solution that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Last year, the Court ruled the state was in contempt for not having a funding plan. The Supreme Court must now decide what happens next, including whether it imposes additional sanctions, removes the state’s existing $100,00 daily fine or sets another deadline for compliance.

Whatever the court decides, the McCleary decision and school funding are shaping up to be the big issue in this fall’s elections. There are starkly different visions for what should happen:

WEA’s position is that McCleary requires full state funding for smaller class sizes in every grade level, plus additional support staff. Both are part of basic education and required by voter-approved I-1351, which is the law. (Many lawmakers say the state only has to fund smaller class sizes in grades K-3, ignoring kids in grades 4-12 and the need for more support professionals.)

WEA’s position is that McCleary requires the state to fully fund competitive and professional base salaries for educators, but school districts should still have the flexibility to negotiate additional pay based on local needs. (WASA [administrators] and WSSDA [school boards] want the Legislature to impose statewide bargaining for salaries and health benefits and to severely limit the freedom to bargain additional pay beyond base salaries for time, responsibility and incentive, known as TRI.)

WEA’s position is that McCleary requires the state to reform its tax code to raise more revenue for schools and social and health services. (Some lawmakers want to enact a so-called “levy swipe,” which would convert local levy funding into state funding, but would not result in a net increase in basic education funding.)

Read WEA’s complete McCleary recommendations to the state here.

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