Jay Inslee is framing his record-breaking budget plan as the fix to Washington State’s education spending woes. He claims that, in order to fully fund K-12 education and meet the mandates of the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, new taxes must be implemented. For this reason, Inslee claims his budget places education as its centerpiece — and that’s how he’s hoping to justify to voters the whopping $1.5 billion in new taxes he proposes, a blatant breaking of his campaign promise to veto any new taxes.
However, for a budget that is supposed to be centered on education, it ignores quite an important part of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. When the court handed down the McCleary decision, it ordered lawmakers to “stop relying so much on local levy dollars to pay for basic education.” In fact, as the Associated Press reports, every legislative session since the court’s 2012 McCleary decision has featured a discussion of the topic of levy reform — yet it’s a topic Inslee ignored in his budget proposal.
Earlier this year, the court held the Legislature in contempt and warned of possible sanctions after failing to meet McCleary decision requirements—a result of Democrats controlling the state budget for the last 30 years. According to Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, Inslee’s failure to address levy reform—a “major point of the McCleary decision”—pushes the state “toward a constitutional crisis.”
Inslee responded to the criticism by brushing off the importance of levy reform with vague language. He said of his budget,
“There’s going to be a large something for everyone and there will be targeted additional things on top of that for struggling schools… I think that’s the right way to go forward.”
It’s safe to assume that the “large something for everyone” references Inslee’s $1.5 million in new taxes and the “additional things” includes benefits for the treasury of his mega-donors at the Washington Education Association (WEA). By his vague answer, it’s also safe to assume Inslee does not fully grasp the complications of levy reform. The A-P,
School districts were supposed to use local tax levies to pay for “extras,” like supplemental programs. But because state dollars have not covered all the basic needs of school districts — the impetus for the McCleary school funding lawsuit — districts have been using levy dollars to pay for some salaries, student transportation and other costs of basic education.
Dorn and Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, warn that levy reform is more complicated than equalizing the tax structure. It would also involve fixing the way teachers and other school employees are paid, because some levy dollars make up the difference between the state allocation for teacher salaries and pay rates in local teacher contracts.
According to the A-P, Sen. Litzow promised the Legislature would address and resolve levy reform and teacher salary issues during the upcoming legislative session—something Inslee could not, or was not allowed by his bosses at the WEA, do.