Latest McCleary Order: Supreme Court judges propose state education budgets for 2014-2018
Today, Washington’s supreme court judges issued a court order that proposes education budgets for the school years 2014-18. The judges gave only passing recognition to lawmakers and taxpayers for already adding $1.6 billion to public school spending, for a total of $15.2 billion, compared to the last state education budget.
The new level of funding in 2013-15 translates into a per student amount from the state of $7,279, a record high. In addition, public schools receive on average another $3,400 per student from local taxpayers, federal taxpayers and other sources, for a total average of $11,400 per student, significantly more than most private school tuition, and the highest level of public education funding in state history.
The judges ruled these increases are not enough, and proposed detailed spending increases of their own. Unlike elected lawmakers, however, the judges do not explain in their plan what programs would have to be cut to fund their massive levels of new spending.
Areas of the budget that could be cut to fund the judges’ education budget include programs for Higher Education, Health and Human Services, Government Operations, Natural Resources, Transportation and state employee pay and benefits. Lawmakers and the public know that writing a budget involve trade-offs. The justices in their order propose large increases in education spending, but provide no suggestions about how to fund them.
Another way to fund the supreme court’s proposed education spending increase is through a tax increase, such a raising the state property tax, boosting the sales tax, or creating a state income tax. Again, lawmakers and the public know that large increases in the budget may mean increasing the financial burden government imposes on citizens, but the supreme court’s order includes no suggestions about what taxes the justices may want to increase.
The education budget the justices propose in their latest McCleary court order omits any consideration of the real-world trade-offs involved in responsibly spending public money. Their proposed education budget reads like a standard lawmaker’s wish list, areas of public spending he would like to increase, but without identifying what program cuts or tax increases are needed to make it happen.
Legislators are elected to make the tough budget decisions necessary to provide essential services, including education, and then are accountable to the public for the results. In contrast, in McCleary the supreme court justices seem to want all the benefit of ordering increases in state spending, without having to be accountable for making hard choices. Instead, they are handing that job to lawmakers.