The state Supreme Court stated the obvious earlier this year when it ruled the Legislature is not fully funding basic education as mandated by the state constitution.
The budget crisis brought on by the Great Recession shined a spotlight on the short shrift for education funding. Legislators have cut spending in many areas because tax collections lagged so far behind projections. Although the dollars are about the same for basic education, the funding is falling short of rising expenses.
The situation might have been even worse if not for the court ruling. The judicial pressure kept lawmakers from reducing funding.
The Legislature hasn't made much progress on developing a long-term plan to fully fund basic education. The court had set a deadline of Monday for a legislative task force to report on the effort.
Lawmakers slid the report under the door at 4 p.m. to make the deadline. Unfortunately, the 40-page report doesn't offer much more than assurances that lawmakers are still working on it.
"Although progress toward implementation of the ESHB 2261 reforms in the 2011-13 biennium was slow, it was not non-existent, and the incremental funding of these reforms represented a good-faith legislative effort to progress toward these goals in the second consecutive biennium of substantial budget cuts," the report concluded.
Given the current economic conditions, treading water might be as good as can be expected. Still, it's not good enough.
Education -- basic as well as higher -- should be the state's top priority. Higher education has taken some serious body blows in recent years, which has forced colleges and universities to dramatically increase tuition.
As lawmakers look to beef up funding for basic education they can't ignore the needs of higher education.
We continue to believe the problem can only be solved by establishing a dedicated funding source for basic education. A specific percentage of the current tax collections must be earmarked with a Sharpie to solely fund basic education.
If more money than was budgeted was collected from the dedicated taxes, that money would then be put in a lock box to be used for education -- and only education -- when a future downturn in the economy forces a dip in revenue like the one we have been experiencing.
The Legislature's mere good-faith effort to comply with the court ruling is tolerable given the current fiscal situation, but lawmakers must be prepared to take swift action when it's clear the economy is on the upswing.