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Rob McKenna: Legislature failed to do its homework

KIRO Radio political analyst Rob McKenna says the legislature's latest efforts to fund education are like a student who gave an answer but didn't show any work. (file photo)
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Washington’s Supreme Court has spoken and the message is clear: Legislators, do your homework.

“What’s really irritating to the court, it’s like a student that gives you an answer but doesn’t show their work,” explained KIRO Political analyst Rob McKenna on Seattle’s Morning News.

The Washington state Legislature has been ordered to make progress toward fully funding basic education by 2018, but the Supreme Court has found that progress lacking.

“The Legislature has increased funding a great deal, but it hasn’t given the Supreme Court a plan on how they will complete the job by 2018,” McKenna said. “They might be 80 percent of the way there or more, but the court insisted on a written plan showing how they would finish the job by 2018 and that homework has not been turned in yet.”

The Legislature had its most recent budget session &#8212 which took 176 days &#8212 to find out how to fully fund basic education in Washington and comply with the Supreme Court’s order to do so. It didn’t, according to the Supreme Court, which previously found the state in contempt. It had the recent budget session to forge a path out of contempt.

Related: State superintendent predicts legislature won’t satisfy the supreme court

Now the court is not just chiding the Legislature, it’s making it pay &#8212 $100,000 a day to be exact. Essentially, the state is paying a fine from itself, to itself.

“Basically, they move the money from one pocket to another,” McKenna said. “The court has ordered that a new account be established to help fund basic education and money be moved out of the state general fund &#8212 which is also where education money comes from &#8212 and into that new account.”

“In a sense, what the Supreme Court is doing is some budgeting of its own by increasing the amount of money available for education even though, in the larger scheme of things, $100,000 a day only amounts to about $37 million a year,” he said.

Related: Dori Monson says Supreme Court decision borders on skit comedy

It is estimated that the state’s budget would need to include $5 billion a year to fund education. The Legislature put $1.3 billion toward education for the current budget.

After a 2012 Supreme Court decision, the court gave the Washington Legislature until 2018 to fully fund the state’s K-12 schools, and show progress toward that goal in the years leading up to it. But progress was lacking and in the years following the decision, the court found the state in contempt. Since the state hasn’t made sufficient progress after the most recent session, it was ordered to start paying.

“If you just read what the Supreme Court says at the beginning of their order, it sounds like they were disobeyed, but in fact the court’s order acknowledges that the Legislature made a great deal of progress in increasing funding for basic education,” McKenna said. “In fact, it set a new record for education spending.”

Governor Jay Inslee has called for lawmakers to meet on Monday, Aug. 17 to discuss how to respond to the court’s order.

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