In this week's paper we provide the handy chart above to illustrate exactly how under-funded K-12 education is in Washington state. But what exactly do we mean by "unfunded reforms"? The following excerpts from the recent Supreme Court opinion help explain:
SHB 2776 required increased funding for continued reductions in K- 3 class sizes, with class sizes to be reduced to 17 students by the 2017-18 school year. The operating budget provided $33.6 million in funding to reduce the class sizes in K-3, but at the same time it cut $214 million from a separate “nonbasic education” program that went to reducing class sizes in K-4, resulting in a significant net loss in K-3 class reductions.
SHB 2776 called for continued phasing-in of all-day kindergarten, with statewide implementation to be achieved by 2018. The operating budget provided some funding for the all-day kindergarten program, but it expanded the program to only 21 percent of school districts in 2011-12 and to only 22 percent of school districts in 2012-13. Needless to say, a one-percent per year increase does not put the State on the path to statewide implementation of all-day kindergarten by the 2017-18 school year. Id. at 9 (noting that, at the current pace, the State would not fund all-day kindergarten for all eligible students until the 2090-91 school year).
SHB 2776 implemented many of the details of ESHB 2261’s prototypical school model, including an increase in state dollars for MSOCs beginning in the 2011-13 biennium. Despite the apparent commitment to begin phasing in increased state funding, the operating budget for the 2011-13 biennium left state spending for MSOCs essentially flat. ... The legislature’s failure to fund promised reforms perpetuates the $500 million biennial shortfall in MSOC allocations, requiring school districts to continue to rely on levy funding for basic education costs.
And so on, and so on.
One of the things that made this such an open and shut case was that the legislature had already acknowledged it was failing to make ample provision for basic education, by passing reforms to correct this shortfall in the form of bills like ESHB 2261 and SHB 2776. Bills the legislature then failed to fund.
Argue all you want that the state doesn't currently have the money to fund these reforms, but that's not the point. The state is constitutionally obligated to fully fund basic education, regardless of its fiscal circumstances. It's not just education spending that needs reform, but education funding.