While those watching out for the release of the Washington State Legislature’s final state budget were sorely disappointed this afternoon, details were bubbling out about the Legislature’s plans to address McCleary. Legislative staff, however, are still scrambling to actually produce a budget that negotiators have agreed to in order avoid a state government shutdown. Then it must be voted on.
Since the 2012 McCleary decision came out, lawmakers have been under court orders to amply bolster funding for Washington’s public schools. But they have been unable to agree on how to get there, in large part because Republicans have stubbornly clung to their “no new taxes” mantra. This has resulted in the Court holding the Legislature in contempt for neglecting its responsibilities.
As in past long sessions, a failure to even begin negotiations in earnest has left Washington citizens waiting over multiple extended sessions to evaluate any decisions coming from the Legislature.
In impromptu meetings with reporters on Thursday, lawmakers released statements confirming they’ve agreed to a potential state property tax increase of roughly 81 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Public teachers can expect to see average salary increases of approximately $10,000, while public school administrators would be receiving over $30,000 of average salary increases by 2021.
These increases would include adjustments for salaries given the residential values in a school district exceed the national average. Accordingly, beginning in 2020, salary for all school staff would adjust based on inflation rates.
There is also a $644.2 million boost to state appropriations on school programs for gifted students, students who fall under the poverty line, and students who fall behind current academic standards.
School districts and unions representing teachers won’t have much time to analyze the impacts of this budget considering a final vote is scheduled to take place in each house by midnight tomorrow night (Friday, June 30th).
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) released a public statement stating, “It will be days [from when the budget is officially released] before we know if the new plans will fully support the educational needs of SPS students.”
Yet no public hearings will be held on the official budget, or its McCleary funding component, which is expected to be released Friday around 8 AM.
This lack of public input has intensified concerns of both legislative efficiency and fiscal transparency.
Reporters in Olympia have attempted to address this issue with lawmakers.
“The decisions are made,” said State Representative June Robinson, D‑Everett, one of the budget negotiators. “What we’re waiting for now is staff to do all the work that needs to be done to balance everything.”
Robinson said she doesn’t anticipate a public hearing on the budget before it gets a floor vote. But people have had months to vet the ideas that went into the deal, she added, since it’s a combination of the Republican and Democratic plans passed earlier this year by the Senate and House, respectively.
“I feel like we were able to use public input to develop the final compromise budget,” she said. “I understand that other people might not feel that way.”
Lawmakers say their number one priority is to avoid a state government shutdown, which would be triggered Saturday in the absence of a new state operating budget.
Had a deal been negotiated earlier, however, there would have been plenty of time for critical scrutiny and public comment. The Legislature is now in its third special session. It blew through two periods of overtime without accomplishing much of anything. And only now, with the fiscal year about to end, has a deal been reached. Unfortunately, many details still aren’t available and won’t be until tomorrow.