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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Legislative interim update, Oct. 7

Much of the interim news has been focused on education. The Washington State Supreme Court has issued a second controversial ruling. The most recent being that the state's voter-approved charter-schools are unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court ruled charter schools don't qualify as "common" schools under our state constitution and cannot receive state funding.

The court's ruling affects about 1,200 students and their families, and may impact other educational programs such as Running Start and skill centers that provide career and technical education for high school students. Traditional, public schools aren't the answer for all students. Our charter schools provide greater flexibility in order to respond to students’ needs.

The timing of their latest ruling was unsettling. The state Supreme Court decided to issue its ruling on the Friday before a Labor Day weekend with many schools already in session. They had the case for more than a year, yet chose to issue a ruling at a time that may be the most disruptive, and not when the Legislature could possibly address the Court's concerns.

The Legislature is looking at options. There is support for charter schools from both Republicans and Democrats. We will be looking at a legislative fix when we return to Olympia in January.

There is still a chance this may get resolved before the Legislature needs to act. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has also urged the state Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

McCleary update K-12 funding increases

In my last email update I touched on the  latest McCleary ruling from Aug. 13. You will recall the state Supreme Court wants to fine the Legislature $100,000 per day for violating the court's McCleary decision on funding education. They are also demanding the Legislature return to Olympia for another special session.

With recent teacher strikes around the state, along with the latest McCleary ruling, it is worth reiterating a few points regarding the Legislature's work and the Court’s order.

  • Our state remains on track for full compliance of the 2012 McCleary order by the original 2018 deadline.
  • By directing appropriations under McCleary the court is trying to do the job of the Legislature, which is outside of its constitutional powers. Only the Legislature has the constitutional vested power to appropriate public monies.
  • The operating budget provided historic increases in K-12 education (see chart) and was one of the greatest bipartisan budgets in decades.
  • The spending plan included cost-of-living increases for teachers, made major investments in early learning and expands all-day kindergarten, reduces class sizes in grades K-3.
  • The capital budget included $200 million for classroom construction.

My colleagues continue to advocate for a "Fund Education First" solution which would require the Legislature to pass a separate K-12 education budget before any other state appropriation. This would ensure we are putting education and our children first when it comes down to the budgeting process.

Wildfire update

I want to commend our first responders for their efforts during the devastating wildfires this year. Without their efforts, things could have been much worse. I spent a lot of time on the front lines of the fires in Chelan and Okanogan counties and they should be commended.

That said, I expect us to look at further improvements with our state agencies and collaborative efforts with the federal government to manage and fight wildfires. All of us have a vested interest in preserving our environment and protecting our natural resources.

The unfortunate realities of the current drought and wildfire season remind us of the need for efficient management. We must continue to focus on long-term solutions such as clearing our forests of debris and undergrowth, and disease management.

Cary Condotta

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