Washington state’s education budget has been the subject of many headlines this year, stemming from the after effects of the McCleary school funding case. The McCleary case was decided in 2012, when the court held that the state was not meeting its “paramount duty” under the state constitution to “amply fund” public education and the court ordered lawmakers to come up with a plan to dramatically increase K-12 funding by 2018. In September 2014, the State Supreme Court declared the state to be in contempt of court, because it had not made enough progress filling the gaps the court had identified.

During the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers allocated more $1.3 billion this year toward areas called out in the McCleary decision, including lowering class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, paying for school supplies and operating costs, and expanding all-day kindergarten. Despite this increase in funding, in August, the court ordered that the state be fined $100,000 a day (to be placed in a separate fund to benefit basic education) primarily because the new funds would not help the state in assuming the full share of school employee salary costs, much which are funded out of local levies.

While the fine sounds large, it will only amount to $15 million by the time the legislature resumes in January 2016, and it would take 30 years to reach another $1.3 billion at that rate. Projections suggest it would take an additional $3.5 billion to pay education salaries out of state coffers, an issue made even more complicated by the fact that salaries are negotiated locally and pay is not uniform across districts.

In most states, education funding is paid for with local taxes and supplemented with state dollars for fairness and equity. In contrast, Washington’s constitution makes funding public schools the main job of the state and suggests that all other state programs are “extras.” It is not clear where extra funds will come to bridge the salary gap, but it is worth noting that a similar issue resulted in New Jersey adopting a state income tax in 1976.

This year’s budget is already in place for Issaquah School District. District budgetary decisions for outlying years are on hold until the state firms up its education budget, as it is still unclear how the funding system might change.