Washington State Fined $100k a Day for Under-Funding Education


The state of Washington has been ordered to pay $100,000 a day in sanctions because of its lack of progress toward fully funding the cost of basic education.

KING5-TV and the Associated Press write that the state Supreme Court made the judgement this week and encouraged Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, to call a special legislative session to address the issue. The court said that if the Legislature complies with the court’s previous rulings for the state to deliver a plan to fully fund education, the penalties accrued during a special session would be refunded.

The order stems from a suit filed by two families in 2007.  The case, McCleary et al. v. State of Washington, was based on the state constitution’s explanation that the state’s “paramount duty,” the first and highest priority, requiring fulfillment before any other state program or operation, obligates Washington to adequately provide for public education, and confers on the children of the state the right to be amply provided with an education.

The court did acknowledge that lawmakers had made progress during the year’s triple overtime legislative session, but had not provided the court with a plan for full compliance by the 2018 deadline.

“Despite repeated opportunities to comply with the court’s order to provide an implementation plan, the State has not shown how it will achieve full funding of all elements of basic education by 2018,” the order, signed by all nine of the court’s justices, reads. “The state urges the court to hold off on imposing sanctions, to wait and see if the State achieves full compliance by the 2018 deadline. But time is simply too short for the court to be assured that, without the impetus of sanctions, the State will timely meet its constitutional obligations.”

The governor said he would analyze the order with the help of Attorney General Bob Ferguson and legislative leaders.

“Today’s order from the Supreme Court acknowledges that significant progress has been made toward meeting the state’s obligation to adequately fund basic education. But everyone understood that even with those historic investments in education, our work would not be done,” said Gov. Jay Inslee in a statement. “The court today made it clear that bolder and more aggressive action is needed to support Washington’s students and their teachers. The detailed plan the court demands in order to fulfill our constitutional obligation will be more complex and expensive than the significant steps we’ve already taken.”

Randy Dorn, Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, said he was not surprised that sanctions had been imposed and added that he would have been shocked if the contempt order had been removed. He hopes the fine will force lawmakers to begin discussions on new taxes that would be needed to meet the ruling.

Although this is the first time the court has sanctioned the governor and legislature, it is not the first time there has been a showdown between a state supreme court and lawmakers concerning school funding. Kansas’ court threatened to shut down schools for eight days, and New Jersey’s Supreme Court actually did so, according to Joseph O’Sullivan and Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times.

Justices voiced consternation with lawmakers’ progress over reducing K-3 class sizes and for the lack of a plan to address salaries for teachers and school employees. “Given the gravity of the state’s ongoing violation of its constitutional obligation to amply provide for public education … the time has come for the court to impose sanctions,” the justices wrote.

The court said the state “wholly failed” to provide a plan to address funds needed to hire thousand of teachers and reiterated its former criticism about using local property tax levies to cover shortfalls caused by the failure of the state to pay the full cost, reports Eric M. Johnson of Yahoo! News.

State Senator Joe Fain, a Republican, said “30 years of an unconstitutional levy structure has created unconscionable pockets of poverty where teachers and students have been victims of unequal funding.”