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Published on Friday, August 8, 2014

Significant Hearing Scheduled for September 3 in McCleary v State Education Funding Case

In an unusual move on June 12, 2014, the Washington State Supreme Court scheduled a hearing for September 3 requiring the state to show cause why it should not be found in contempt and subject to sanctions for failing to comply with the January 2014 Court Order requiring “a complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-18 school year.” The Court’s action was in response to the April 30, 2014, report filed by the Legislature in which it admitted that it did not reach full agreement on a plan in the short 60-day session, summarized the additional funding and reforms it had enacted, and summarized proposals for full funding that were introduced, but did not pass that will be used to build the plan for compliance. The report also referenced the separation of powers in allowing the Legislature to determine if it was on schedule to meet the 2018 deadline imposed by the Court, and asked the Court to recognize that “2015 is the next and most critical year for the Legislature to reach the grand agreement needed to meet the state's Article IX duty by the statutorily scheduled full implementation date of 2018.”

The plaintiff’s brief in support of the hearing and sanctions referenced the separation of powers as the reason the Court should impose sanctions in order to protect the legitimacy of court mandates, and requested actions that included:

  • Hold the Legislature in contempt of court, at least until the state fully complies with the court orders in this case.
  • Enjoin the state from digging the unconstitutional underfunding hole deeper by imposing any further unfunded or underfunded mandates on its schools.
  • Declare that if the state does not fully comply with the January 2014 Court Order by December 31, 2014, this Court will, in January 2015, issue strong judicial enforcement orders to compel the state to comply with this Court’s orders and with Washington children’s positive constitutional right to an amply funded education.

The briefs have squarely placed the issue of separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches before the Court. The state filed its opening brief on July 11, and the plaintiffs and others will be filing briefs by next week.

Court Filings.

We continue to watch this issue closely. Estimates for fully funding basic education differ substantially, but the Office of Financial Management estimated that the amount needed to continue funding McCleary was about $1.5 B in the 2015-2017 biennium and $1.5 B in the 2017-2019 biennium. Combined with the estimate of another significant state general budget gap for the 2015-2017 biennium, local distributions of state revenues will continue to be at risk.

Background

The 2012 decision in McCleary v. State found that the state was not meeting “the paramount constitutional duty” in Article IX section 1 to provide adequate funding for basic K-12 education. In making its finding, the court used the Legislature’s definitions of basic education and funding needs in ESHB 2261 passed in 2009 and SHB 2776 passed in 2010. The case decision followed the reasoning of a similar 1978 case which found that the duty to amply fund education must be borne by the state, not local school districts. The January 2014 Court Order stated that the “case remains fully subject to judicial enforcement,” and left open the possibility of finding the state in contempt.

The Everett Herald recently reported on the situation in this article.

Categories: State budget
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