When Gov. Jay Inslee meets with key lawmakers in Olympia Monday to take stock of the State Supreme Court’s recent order fining the state $100,000 per day in the McCleary education funding case, the first item up for discussion likely will be whether the governor should convene yet another special session (the fourth one this year) to help move the process along. Because that’s precisely what the State Supreme Court has encouraged the governor to do – call a fourth special session so the legislature can address the remaining items in the McCleary case.
Our advice for Governor Inslee? Resist the siren of song of a hastily convened special session, and focus instead on developing buy-in for a thoughtful, long-term plan that has the votes and grassroots support to pass.
Plan Before Per Diem
First, absent something close to a workable bill or at least an outline of an agreed-to plan, calling back all the legislators not only won’t solve the problem, it will instead exasperate the same people we need to work together to find common ground on politically thorny issues, namely, an overhaul of the tax system used to pay teacher and staff salaries (which right now is an inequitable mix of local and state dollars, with too much reliance in wealthier districts on local levies). That means buy in not just from R and D legislators in Olympia, but also school districts, the teachers union, school boards, and even parent and community leaders.
And don’t just take our word for it. Listen to what legislators are saying:
Sen. Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup) has worked on several plans to address the inequities in the teacher pay system. He tells The News Tribune “[t]here’s really no value, in all honesty, in starting a legislative session and just having folks sitting around, when we really still have to work through all these details.” House budget writer Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), also tells The News Tribune that calling legislators back “doesn’t increase the likelihood we’ll get done — it just drives up our per diem costs.”
When the gavel finally came down on the historic 2015 session, legislators had been at work a total of 176 days. That means our part-time legislators spent almost half the year in Olympia. Many of these same legislators hold down other jobs to pay their bills and support their families. Asking these same legislators to miss even more time from work (and from families) for what is supposed to be a part-time job won’t encourage an atmosphere of cooperation needed to finish the work in McCleary, especially if they are asked to return to Olympia to do little more than hurry up and wait.
Take the Time To Get It Right
While we would all welcome a quick resolution for a case that has now dragged on since 2007, let’s make sure we get it right. And getting it right means continuing to build support from stakeholders across the state, working out the details, and making sure we’re resolving these issues both now and for the long term. Keep in mind that it took 30 years of patches and quick political fixes to end up with our current sticky wicket of school funding. Unraveling it in a way that ensures our funding system moving forward is ample, uniform and stable will require more than a few floor speeches in Olympia.