State Senate OKs compromise on plan to try to fix education system

SEATTLE (AP) — The state Senate on Tuesday passed a plan to try to fix the way the state pays for education, mirroring a measure passed earlier in the state House.

Many lawmakers believe the bill will satisfy the Supreme Court's order to finish the work it demanded in its so-called McCleary decision.

The court has held the state in contempt over its failure to figure out the remaining issues about how the state can fully pay the costs of basic education, as the constitution requires.

A bipartisan group from both chambers met over the summer and falled to work out a compromise on how to find the money to end the state's overreliance on local tax levies to pay for basic education. The bill is similar to the language the task force agreed to before the session began.

Some would call it: a plan for a plan. The proposal still doesn't say how the Legislature will fix the most vexing part of the education funding problem: overreliance on local school levies to pay for basic education.

Four years after the Supreme Court ruled the way the state pays for education is unconstitutional, the Washington Legislature is still debating how to finish responding to the court. They are working under a contempt order and a daily $100,000 fine until they do.

They have added more than $2 billion to the state's education budget. But they've left the most complex challenge for last.

The proposal approved by the Senate Tuesday, co-sponsored by Sen. Steve Litzow, creates a bipartisan task force to make recommendations on teacher pay, benefits and recruitment efforts, collective bargaining, and how state and local funds are used to pay for education.

“This plan represents another step toward strengthening our entire public education system and making sure we provide all children with a high quality education,” said Litzow, of Mercer Island, who serves as chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “Following historic investments -- including an additional $4.6 billion the past three years -- we still have a great deal of work to reduce our overreliance on local levies, which create a wildly inequitable public school system. I hoped we’d be taking even more meaningful action this year after the Senate’s bipartisan proposal creating a real McCleary solution last year. However, I’m pleased to continue moving in the right direction.”

The legislation, which passed 26-23, creates the Education Funding Task Force, which is tasked with making recommendations to address school district’s overreliance on local property tax levies used to pay for basic education, improve equity and lower costs for teacher and school staff health care, improve financial reporting by school districts and overall education spending.