Washington State Court Orders Legislature to Increase Ed Spending

The Washington State Supreme Court has lost its patience with the Legislature and is holding it in contempt.  The reason is that a 2007 order to increase education spending enough to meet Legislature’s own definition of of a basic education to Washington children has not been implemented, writes Joseph Sullivan of The Seattle Times.

No sanctions will take place until at least the close of the 2015 Legislative session, but the court made clear that the state constitution’s requirements for educating Washington’s students would be upheld.

“On the date following adjournment of the 2015 session, if the State has not complied with the court’s order, the State shall file in the court a memorandum explaining why sanctions or other remedial measures should not be imposed,” reads the order, which was signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen.

The landmark case is named after the parents who filed it, Stephanie and Matthew McCleary, and in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor.  Attorney for the plaintiffs Tom Ahearne says he is optimistic that the Legislature will abide by the ruling. Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-Issaquah), a member of the House Education Committee, says he is glad  the ruling was made as it will provide incentive for the lawmakers to “make it work”.

“No one should be surprised, yet no one should minimize the court’s order.  I urged lawmakers to act this year and agreed with the court that we must do more to adequately fund education, which I believe is both a constitutional and moral obligation,” said Gov. Jay Inslee.

“If we are to succeed now,” he added, “we will need the help of everyone in Washington state, not just 147 lawmakers, as we rise to the challenge to avoid the court’s pending sanctions.”

The court in 2012 set a 2018 deadline to provide the adequate funding, which is estimated at between $3.5 billion and $7 billion over a two-year budget period.  This money is for school bus transportation, reducing class sizes, daily operation costs, and supplies.

Legislators did add some funding for the years 2013-2015, but the court said there were no indications that the lawmakers were moving quickly enough, nor did they have a complete plan for how they would meet the required 2018 deadline.  An outline was expected in April of this year, but Legislators cold not come to agreement.

Possible sanctions include fines for the Legislature as a whole or for individual lawmakers; having the court take over and rewrite the state budget; or revoking tax exemptions, according to Donna Gordon Blankenship of the Associated Press.

Some reforms for Washington schools which are stalled for lack of funding are: all-day kindergarten in every school, more class hours for high school students to help them earn 24 credits for graduation, and a new model for school staffing and smaller class sizes.

The court included some suggestions to remedy the situation, such as blocking other spending; forcing the state to sell some of its properties; prohibiting all education funding because the system is unfair, writes Josh Eidelson of Bloomberg Businessweek.  The last step would be closing Washington schools until the legislature is in compliance with the constitution.

The state’s five living governors along with Gov. Inslee asked the justices to exercise restraint and said their micromanaging could lead to a dangerous situation.  Education activists say that this impasse is necessary in order for Washington’s students to have an adequate education.