Legislature, AG to Court: McCleary response is complete

Yesterday the Legislature submitted what could be its final report to the state Supreme Court on its progress in responding to the McCleary decision. The Attorney General (AG) also submitted the state’s memorandum outlining why the state believes “the Court should dissolve its order of contempt against the State, relinquish jurisdiction, and terminate this appeal.”

During the 2017 legislative session, the Legislature enacted EHB 2242 to complete compliance with the McCleary decision, and the 2017–19 operating budget funds the bill. Appendix A of the legislative report offers a detailed timeline of the provisions of EHB 2242.

As the legislative report notes, 2011–13 state spending for public schools was $13.550 billion. As enacted for 2017–19, public schools spending will be $21.969 billion. And when EHB 2242 is fully implemented in 2019–21, K–12 spending will have increased to $26.573 billion. Appendix B of the report shows the history of state spending on public schools going back to 1980. K-12 spending represents 51 percent of the NGFS+ budget in FY 2019, 53 percent in FY 2020 and 54 percent in FY 2021. These are the highest percentages since K–12 spending was 53 percent of the budget in 1983.

This increase in state funding for schools is funded in part by a levy swap. As the report shows, due to the new state property tax levy, state property tax collections will increase to $3.196 billion in CY 2018 from $2.115 billion in CY 2017. Meanwhile, local maintenance and operation levies (henceforth to be known as enrichment levies, per EHB 2242) brought in $2.394 billion in SY 2017 and collections are estimated to drop to $1.439 billion in SY 2020.

The legislative report concludes, “In enacting EHB 2242, the 2017 Legislature achieved the promise of its earlier enacted reforms.”

The AG’s memo agrees that the state is now in compliance with the McCleary decision. It notes, “To the extent Plaintiffs disagree, they bear the burden of showing that the new legislation, on its face, is not reasonably likely to provide fully sufficient state funding for basic education.” (Emphasis in original.)

Because the state is in compliance, there is no reason for the Court to maintain jurisdiction or contempt. Still, the AG notes, “Plaintiffs may argue that the Court should continue jurisdiction to make sure all provisions of EHB 2242 are fully funded beyond the current biennium.” But, as the AG writes,

The mere possibility that a future Legislature will not adhere to the requirements of EHB 2242 is not a cognizable basis for continuing to retain jurisdiction. . . . [S]hould the State fail to implement and fund EHB 2242 at some point in the future, the courthouse door will be open to plaintiffs. But it is time for this case to end.

(Emphases in original.)

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