Lawmakers deadlocked despite state Supreme Court's daily fine over school funding

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- It’s been nearly  a week since the Washington Supreme Court issued its unprecedented $100,000-a-day fine against the state for underfunding public schools.  But as the penalty racks up, lawmakers are deadlocked over how to solve the problem.

A big meeting Monday between the governor and state legislative leaders ended without any plan going forward.

The crux of the Supreme Court’s ruling is the over-reliance on local levies.  The justices are demanding that it stop.

For decades, as the state has shortchanged schools, local levies have increased to make up the difference.  In some cases, they are almost a third of a district’s budget.

Much of that local money has gone to paying teacher salaries, and that creates an unfair system where richer districts can raise more – and pay more – than poorer districts.

The court argues that teacher salaries are basic education, they need to be more uniform, and they need to be paid by the state.  Local levies should go back to paying for “extras” like art and music and after-school programs, it says.

Every legislator in Olympia knows this is a problem.  The challenge is finding the money to pay teachers salaries from the state budget in Olympia.  It’s estimated to cost $3.5 billion over the next two years.

The two political parties are deadlocked over how to proceed, which is why the court had to intervene.

Here are the two competing proposals for reducing reliance on local levies:

Republicans:  Levy “Swap”

    Democrats:  New Revenue

      Realistically, the solution is likely to be a compromise between the two sides.

      But even though the state is racking up a daily penalty, there doesn’t seem to be an urgency for the sides to come together.

      “Making sure that we do this right, rather than quickly, is, I think, what needs to be the priority,” said Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Monroe, the House minority leader.

      The court strongly urged the governor to call a special session of lawmakers to hammer out a deal before they meet again in January. But the governor is resisting, arguing more time is needed to bring the sides together.