Education bill awaits Senate vote

— A key education bill has had an amendment-riddled ride through three Senate committees before earning consideration by the full Senate.

SB 6195 would initiate a task force to create recommendations to fully pay teachers for basic education. Tensions, however, emerged over details in the bill, including when legislators should take action on local school districts’ special levies.

The State Supreme Court in 2012 declared the state was not fully funding basic education, a constitutional requirement, in what is known as the McCleary order. The court determined last August that the state was in contempt of that order and has since levied a daily $100,000 fine. The court said using levy funds for basic education was unconstitutional because levies are an unreliable funding source.

Local school districts’ replacement maintenance and operations levies were up for voter consideration on Feb. 9. They include Sunnyside, Mabton and Zillah, which all are passing.

The vote-count will be finalized Feb. 19.

When a bipartisan work group of legislators convened to create the original SB 6195 last fall, they discovered they lacked data that separated the state’s support of teacher pay from local district’s additional funds.

The original bill creates a task force to determine how much of basic education has been funded by local levies. The group would produce recommendations for the next legislative session to meet the court’s mandate.

The bill in its present form requires action requires legislative action to reduce school districts’ reliance on local levies to pay for basic education. The second substitute, which has been placed on the Senate floor calendar, defers the date for required levy reform to Dec. 31, 2017.

In addition to creating the task force, the bill in its new form establishes another work group, which would create recommendations for district finance account management, and would require the state auditor to review its internal auditing practices.

“The intent of the substitute is to make the task force that stems from this bill … more successful,” Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said during the Senate Ways and Means committee deliberation last week.

“Right now we don’t know what money is paying for what and that is an essential issue for the state to live up to its responsibility,” he added.

In the initial hearing and evaluation before the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee, a substitute SB 6195 passed 5-4. The measure was further amended by the Senate Ways and Means Committee before earning a 13-10 approval vote.

In the House of Representatives, HB 2366, a twin to the original Senate bill, passed on a 64-34 bipartisan vote Jan. 25, and carried only one amendment, so capital funds would not be used to supplement basic education funding. Its initial Senate hearing before the Early Learning and K-12 Committee is Feb. 18.

“There’s information we need to gain from local school districts to solve the problem,” said Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, during the Senate Early Learning and K-12 executive session. “If this legislature is incapable of acting and that issue not be resolved, we’ll be in a worse situation in our public schools.”

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said the action by the end of the 2017 legislative session is “key” because “it keeps our promises to Washington’s one million school children and has the best chance of getting us out of contempt of court.”   

Billig was a member of the work group that created the bill. Sens. Doug Ericksen, Ann Rivers, and Christine Rolfes along with Reps. Pat Sullivan, Kristine Lytton, Chad Magendanz, and Adam Smith were also part of the pre-session work group.

Gov. Jay Inslee does not believe the changes are adequate for student needs or to comply with the order of the Supreme Court. He said, “I’m very hopeful through good faith discussions that we can get back closer to where the bipartisan work group had a proposal.”

Requiring action by the 2017 legislative session, he said, was important to create an “expectation and promise” to school kids and the court.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said of addressing McCleary deadlines, “We’re going to get a McCleary bill this year. It’s just a matter of when. Right now, everything is fluid. If this was an easy problem, the governor would have had a plan for us. The important thing is getting it right.”

- Contact Izumi Hansen at hansenizumi@gmail.com.



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