Apparently the Court accepted Copsey’s assurance. In their order issued on September 11, the Court unanimously found the Legislature in contempt of court: but they withheld a decision on sanctions until after the 2015 Legislative Session. While the Court may have believed Copsey’s pledge regarding the Legislature’s commitment to find the needed revenue, not all legislators seemed to disagree.
“Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, disagreed, saying the court was ‘way out of its lane’ and is interfering with the Legislature’s role as the state’s budget-setting authority.” He went on to say that “he doesn’t think that the contempt order … will influence the Legislature’s negotiation process next year” (The Tacoma Tribune). Clearly, the notion of finding new revenue to fund McCleary will be hotly debated in the upcoming legislative session.
Another statement by Copsey stretched credibility to the breaking point when he said there wasn’t any disagreement about the cost of full funding of K-12 education. That was the whole reason for the Court’s contempt hearing. Until the Legislature defines that cost and creates a plan to provide the funds, it is nearly impossible for the Court to measure their progress in meeting that mark. Superintendent Dorn has provided an estimate that totals nearly $7 billion in new funding per year by the 2017-18 school year. That plan was referenced during the hearing by one of the Justices, and while Copsey didn’t question the credibility of Dorn’s number, legislative estimates have been more in the range of $1 to$3 billion per year.
That brings me to the State Board of Education meeting on September 10. One of the topics on their agenda was a report on the Educational System Health Performance Indicators. These indicators were created by the Legislature in 2013 with ESSB 5491. They include Kindergarten Readiness, 3rd Grade Literacy, High School Readiness, High School Graduation, and the Quality of the High School Diploma.
In addition to identifying the indicators, the legislation also specified that Washington should be measured against the top 10 percent of states as well as a group of peer states. The peer states are the “global challenge states” that were specified in the 2005 Washington Learns Report. Since the global challenge states aren’t a new concept, I wasn’t surprised to see them used as a bar to measure Washington’s progress. The reference to the top 10 percent of states as a measure of our effectiveness was a surprise.
Since the Legislature is on record for using the top 10 percent as an appropriate benchmark, perhaps the Supreme Court should use it as an expectation for the Legislature’s funding of that system. According to the latest report from the Education Counts Research Center, Washington isn’t even close to the top 10 percent in education funding–we’re currently in the bottom 20 percent. To meet the goal that the Legislature feels appropriate to impose on the education system, they would need to increase K-12 funding by over $8 billion per year. That may seem like a tall order, but as the old saying goes, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”