Legislative response to state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate to fund basic education: “We tried. Wait until next year.”

The Legislature met its deadline to report to the state Supreme Court on progress toward meeting the McCleary funding requirements. (Background here.) The 58-page report did not lay out a specific, year-to-year funding plan, but did describe the progress lawmakers have already made, primarily in the 2013 legislative session. The committee charged with reporting to the Court explained some budget fundamentals, including how biennial budgeting works:

…the Legislature enacts appropriation policies for two years in a single piece of legislation. The budget approved for the 2013-15 biennium remains in effect from July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2015. In the second year of each biennium, the Legislature considers changes to the biennial budget enacted in the first year in a supplemental budget.

They point out that the supplemental budget enacted in the second year typically responds to changes in caseloads, enrollments and forecast revenues. It’s not a year for big policy changes. In other words, they explain why they didn’t do a lot in 2014 to address McCleary. The two-year budget adopted in 2013 handled most of what was possible, though they did make some policy and funding decisions last session that constitute ongoing progress.

As the Seattle Times reports, lawmakers told the Court 2015 would be the big year. But, as the Spokesman-Review reports, lawmakers don’t quite know what that means.

As Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, said after the meeting, the committee can’t commit a future Legislature to any particular action.

“Coming up with the plan is not within the jurisdiction of this committee,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said.

The News Tribune reports that the head of the State Board of Education also wonders what’s coming next.

Ben Rarick, director of the State Board of Education, said the report seems to mainly be a recitation of current law.

“If that’s essentially all they said,” he said, “one wonders what the purpose of the report is.”

The Court may also wonder.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson thinks that the Court should not rush to judgment, though. He points out that the Legislature made good faith efforts to meet the McCleary requirement in 2013 and 2014. The Everett Herald has the brief Ferguson filed. He says the Court should not complicate difficult negotiations and urges them to wait for 2015.

Actions taken in 2015 will be critical in putting the State on target for full compliance by 2018, and the Legislature hopes that the Court’s response to the attached Report will further facilitate, and not complicate, this endeavor, thereby allowing each branch to fulfill its constitutional role.

That would clearly be the right thing to do.

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