Mary Jean Ryan, Acting Chair of the State Board of Education, wrote the following letter to the co-chairs of the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation. The committee is about to have their second meeting and send a report to the Washington State Supreme Court detailing the progress they’ve made toward full Constitutional compliance with Article IX.
Dear Senator Frockt and Representative Alexander:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the state’s report to the Supreme Court regarding compliance with the Article IX Constitutional requirements to make “ample provision” for the education of all children in Washington State. I am unable to attend the scheduled August 20th meeting, but I would like to offer several points for your consideration as you craft your Report.
As I understand the McCleary decision and the Supreme Court’s subsequent December, 2012 Order, this Report is an opportunity for the State to demonstrate that it is on track for, in the words of the Order, “full Constitutional compliance” with its Article IX responsibilities by 2018. The Court has asked for the State to “lay out a detailed plan” for implementation of all the elements of ESHB 2261, and “then adhere to it.”
While the state made some progress in funding basic education last session, its implementation of a strengthened program of education for all children may be behind schedule. One of the cornerstones of ESHB 2261 was increased funding for high school instructional hours, coupled with strengthened graduation requirements. However, the Class of 2018 will be entering 8th grade in about a month, and the Legislature has yet to authorize implementation of the 24-credit package contained in ESHB 2261. This is one important way in which the Legislature did not follow the recommendation of the Joint Task Force on Education Funding issued last January.¹ The upcoming supplemental session offers an opportunity to finalize these credit requirements, and I would encourage any “detailed plan” you produce to include that important milestone. The State Board regards strengthened high school course-taking as a ‘cornerstone requirement’ of ESHB 2261, ensuring that additional financial resources are targeted to educational outcomes for our graduates. It will also help address Washington’s disappointing ranking among states in ‘chance for college by age 19’ – the organization Postsecondary Education Opportunity (PEO) ranked us 47th in the nation on this metric in its latest report.
Regarding funding, initial progress was made toward funding the core components of SHB 2776, including sizeable investments in the Learning Assistance Program (LAP), pupil transportation, non-salary related (MSOC) costs, reduced class size, increased instructional hours in grades 7-12, and additional full day kindergarten programs. Yet, the truly hard work remains to make “ample provision” a meaningful phrase for students in Washington State, and it is doubtful that additional investments of the magnitude required to ensure full Constitutional compliance in 2018 can be sustained through a budget approach that relies heavily on transfers from the Capital budget, a collection of one-time savings, and a seemingly on-going policy of annually exempting the requirement of Initiative 732 to provide cost-of-living adjustments to educators in our State.
The Supreme Court is likely to be agnostic on whether the Legislature increases revenues, reduces spending, or employs some combination of these approaches to support its Paramount Duty. Still, it is likely to want to know how that the Legislature’s “spending plan” is supported by a long-term “funding plan” culminating in 2018. Needless to say, budget plans beyond two years are not how the legislature typically operates, but the Court seems aware of this fact, and their requirements are not vaguely worded.
It seems clear that something structural will need to happen before the Legislature can support a fully funded program of basic education and sustain it through good economic times and bad. However, the budget solutions offered during the 2013 session are arguably no more “reliable and dependable” — to use the Court’s term — than the local excess levies the Supreme Court seeks to replace. And if the plan from last year’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding is what is submitted to the Court, as has been publicly discussed, then the Court will likely want to know to what extent the Legislature’s actions during the 2013 session adhered to it. I recommend that analysis be included in your Report.
I deeply respect your public service and the very difficult task you have ahead. Having served on the State Board of Education for eight years, and on the Quality Education Council for four years, I have a deep personal commitment to this work. I do not underestimate the magnitude of the challenges you are facing. As you confront these challenges, my hope is that the Legislature utilizes the Quality Education Council, and gives it the resources and time it needs to carry out the very important role it was given – to “recommend and inform the ongoing implementation… of an evolving program of basic education and the financing necessary to support such program.”
Ultimately, though, whether through the QEC or other means, my sincere hope is that the Legislature can sustain the work and leadership necessary to make the requirements of Article IX of the Constitution a reality for current and future students of Washington State.
Mary Jean Ryan, Acting Chair
Washington State Board of Education
¹ For context, read the Tacoma News Tribune article on this topic here (retrieved August 13, 2013): http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/07/07/2668662/money-aside-legislature-missed.html
Here is a chart that legislative staff put together that shows the amounts that were added to basic education, both in terms of dollar amounts and actual differences in program.