Following Through on the Promise of ESHB 2261: Funding A Meaningful High School Diploma

From the beginning, ESHB 2261 — the landmark legislation passed in 2009 that redefined basic education — was about more than just funding basic education. It was also about strengthening the program of basic education itself.

The Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling in McCleary made clear that more funding alone — funding for funding’s sake — was not the ultimate criterion in determining compliance with the ‘ample provision’ clause of the Constitution. ‘Ample provision’ had to be defined by a set of programs specifically designed to prepare students for success in career, college and life. And, this set of programs had to be anchored in a new, more robust definition of a meaningful high school diploma.

Since McCleary, the Supreme Court has grown impatient with the lack of progress. Most recently, in its December 2012 Court Order,

          “Year 2018 remains a firm deadine for full constitutional compliance. whether this is achieved by getting on track with the implemntation schedule anticipated in ESHB 2261 or whether it is achieved by equivalent measure, it is incumbent upon the State to lay out a detailed plan and then adhere to it. The upcoming legislative session provides the opportunity for the State to do so. While the State’s first report to the court identified the standing committees that have been formed and the additional studies that have been undertaken, the second report must identify the fruits of these labors.

          Accordingly, by amjority, it is herby ordered: the report submitted at the conclusion of the 2013 legislative session must set out the State’s plan in sufficient detail to allow progress to be measured acording to periodic benchmarks between now and 2018. It should indicate the phase-in plan for achieveing the State’s mandate to fully fund basic educatjion and demonstrate that its budget meets its plan. The phase-in plan should address al areas of K-12 educatjion identified in SDHB 2261, including transportation, MSCOCs (Materials, Supplies, Other Operating Costss), full time kindergarten, and class size reduction. Given the scale fo the task at hand, 2018 is only a moment away – and by the time the 2013 legislature convenes a full year will have apssed since the court issued its opinion in this case.¹

          In education, student progress is measure dby yearly benchmarks according to sessential academic goals and requirements. The State should expect no less of itself thatn of its students. Requiring the legislature to meet periodic benchmarks does not interfere with its prerogative to enact the reforms it believes best serve WAshington’s education system. To the contrary, legilsative benchmarks help guide judicial review. We cannot wait until “graduation” in 2018 to determin if the State has met minimum constitutional standards.

          IT IS SO ORDERED.”

the court required the Legislature to submit a report at the conclusion of the 2013 session, showing how it would achieve “full constitutional compliance” with all elements of ESHB 2261 by 2018.

There are signs of progress. Both the House and the Senate have made K-12 funding a focus this session. But, at this point in negotiations, both chambers are in danger of increasing K-12 funding without clear outcomes in mind. How will that improve outcomes for students? What, besides court compliance, motivates and shapes this additional investment in public schools?

At the heart of ESHB 2261 is a commitment to a more meaningful high school diploma – the 24 Credit Career- and College-Ready Diploma. These new graduation requirements would better prepare students for postsecondary education, gainful employment and citizenship, but the Legislature has yet to implement them. With the Class of 2018 beginning their freshmen year in a little over a year, we (and they) cannot afford to wait any longer for a plan of action. The court’s order clearly expects a plan for implementation culminating in 2018, but at this point, the Legislature still lacks one.

As the court has said, “student progress is measured by yearly benchmarks…. the state should expect no less of itself.” The Legislature has several pieces of legislation (HB 2051 & HB 2036) which ground the proposed K-12 funding enhancements in real changes to basic education programs, including increases in instructional time and course-taking requirements for a meaningful high school diploma. The Legislature should pass and fund this legislation, not just to satisfy the court’s requirement, but also to deliver on a promise made to the Class of 2018.

~ Ben Rarick

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