The Temple of Justice, Olympia
Walter R. Wilder & Harry K. White of NYC were selected as architects of the Capitol Campus buildings of which the Legislative Building is the centerpiece. The Temple of Justice is the oldest building on the campus being constructed between 1913-20. (Photo: Jimmy Everson)

This morn­ing, the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court, in a land­mark order that will turn heads and shoul­ders across the Ever­green State, ordered the state to begin pay­ing a $100,000 fine for each day that it fails to adopt a plan for ful­ly com­ply­ing with Arti­cle IX, Sec­tion 1 of the state Con­sti­tu­tion (“It is the para­mount duty of the state to make ample pro­vi­sion for the edu­ca­tion of all chil­dren resid­ing with­in its bor­ders, with­out dis­tinc­tion or pref­er­ence on account of race, col­or, caste, or sex.”)

The Court also sug­gest­ed that the Leg­is­la­ture go back into spe­cial ses­sion to work on the prob­lem of school fund­ing with­out delay, not­ing that leg­is­la­tors fig­ured out how to raise bil­lions of addi­tion­al dol­lars for high­way con­struc­tion on a bipar­ti­san basis only a few weeks ago. From the Court’s order, pub­lished today:

Giv­en the grav­i­ty of the State’s ongo­ing vio­la­tion of its con­sti­tu­tion­al oblig­a­tion to amply pro­vide for pub­lic edu­ca­tion, and in light of the need for expe­di­tious action, the time has come for the court to impose sanc­tions. A mon­e­tary sanc­tion is appro­pri­ate to empha­size the cost to the chil­dren, indeed to all of the peo­ple of this state, for every day the State fails to adopt a plan for ‘full com­pli­ance with arti­cle IX, sec­tion 1.

At the same time, this sanc­tion is less intru­sive than oth­er avail­able options, includ­ing direct­ing the means the State must use to come into com­pli­ance with the court’s order. Now, there­fore, it is hereby


Effec­tive imme­di­ate­ly, the State of Wash­ing­ton is assessed a reme­di­al penal­ty of one hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars ($100,000) per day until it adopts a com­plete plan for com­ply­ing with arti­cle lX, sec­tion 1 by the 2018 school year.

The penal­ty shall be payable dai­ly to be held in a seg­re­gat­ed account for the ben­e­fit of basic edu­ca­tion. Rec­og­niz­ing that leg­isla­tive action com­ply­ing with the court’s order can only occur in ses­sion, but fur­ther rec­og­niz­ing that the court has no author­i­ty to con­vene a spe­cial ses­sion, the court encour­ages the gov­er­nor to aid in resolv­ing this mat­ter by call­ing a spe­cial ses­sion. Should the leg­is­la­ture hold a spe­cial ses­sion and dur­ing that ses­sion ful­ly com­ply with the court’s order, the court. will vacate any penal­ties accru­ing dur­ing the ses­sion. Oth­er­wise, penal­ties will con­tin­ue to accrue until the State achieves compliance.

As it has since the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of Wash­ing­ton’s school fund­ing sys­tem was first lit­i­gat­ed in Seat­tle School Dis­trict, the court assumes and expects that the oth­er branch­es of gov­ern­ment will com­ply in good faith with orders of the court issued pur­suant to the court’s con­sti­tu­tion­al duties. Seat­tle Sch. Dist. 1 90 Wn.2d at 506’07. Our coun­try has a proud tra­di­tion of hav­ing the exec­u­tive branch aid in enforc­ing court orders vin­di­cat­ing con­sti­tu­tion­al rights.

$100,000 a day adds up to about $3 mil­lion a month.

We are about five months away from the 2016 reg­u­lar ses­sion. Were the Leg­is­la­ture not to act until then, it would incur $15 mil­lion in court-imposed penalties.

The Leg­is­la­ture of this state has a long and grand his­to­ry of dither­ing, pro­cras­ti­nat­ing, and excuse-mak­ing. But the time for mak­ing excus­es is over. The Supreme Court is fed up and tired of the Leg­is­la­ture’s inabil­i­ty to meet its own goals for com­ply­ing with Arti­cle IX, Sec­tion 1 of the state Con­sti­tu­tion. The Court’s unan­i­mous deci­sion to impose sanc­tions is war­rant­ed and appropriate.

It’s time for the Leg­is­la­ture to get back to work. Wash­ing­ton needs tax reform. It needs its schools ful­ly fund­ed. It is our para­mount duty to pro­vide for the edu­ca­tion of our youth. We’re not meet­ing that oblig­a­tion, and our kids are being robbed as a con­se­quence. This sit­u­a­tion must be reme­died as quick­ly as possible.

Half-mea­sures are not enough; the Leg­is­la­ture can and must do better.

When we get a response from Gov­er­nor Inslee, Super­in­ten­dent Dorn, and leg­isla­tive lead­ers to this deci­sion, we will post it.

Loom­ing over all of this is Tim Eyman’s I‑1366, which threat­ens to wipe out $8 bil­lion in sales tax rev­enue over six years unless the Leg­is­la­ture votes to approve a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment per­ma­nent­ly lock­ing in our state’s regres­sive tax sys­tem. I‑1366 has been cer­ti­fied for the bal­lot, but is being chal­lenged in court on scope grounds. The first hear­ing in the case will take place tomor­row morn­ing, against the back­drop of this Supreme Court order in McCleary.

UPDATE: Gov­er­nor Inslee’s response is as fol­lows.

“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.”

“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.”

“I will talk today with Attor­ney Gen­er­al Fer­gu­son, leg­isla­tive lead­ers and oth­ers to ful­ly ana­lyze today’s court order.”

The gov­er­nor did not dis­cuss plans for a spe­cial session.

The Wash­ing­ton Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion’s Kim Mead had this to say:

“WEA is pleased with the Court’s strong order to require the leg­is­la­ture to com­ply with the con­sti­tu­tion, remind­ing them that it impos­es only one para­mount duty on the state: ample pro­vi­sion for edu­ca­tion of all chil­dren. It’s clear the court agrees that our kids can’t wait for the leg­is­la­ture to act on its own.”

“I encour­age the Gov­er­nor and leg­isla­tive lead­ers to pro­vide the fund­ing our kids need to suc­ceed, now, not years from now.  Fur­ther, the court made it clear that the leg­is­la­ture fell far short on the issues of class sizes and edu­ca­tor com­pen­sa­tion. Those were our two high­est pri­or­i­ties dur­ing the pre­vi­ous leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Now, per­haps, the state will step up to its duty to our stu­dents and educators.

“WEA stands ready to assist leg­isla­tive lead­ers to assist leg­is­la­tors in com­plet­ing a plan.”

We will post more reac­tion as we get it.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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8 replies on “Supreme Court fines state $100,000 a day for failure to comply with McCleary orders”

  1. “Wash­ing­ton is assessed a reme­di­al penal­ty of one hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars ($100,000) per day until it adopts a com­plete plan … The penal­ty shall be payable dai­ly to be held in a seg­re­gat­ed account for the ben­e­fit of basic education.”

    ==> That works out to less than $0.10 per K‑12 stu­dent per day, $3 per month, or $36 per year. It would be cheap­er to pay the fine, direct­ed to K‑12 fund­ing, than to fix the prob­lem. That, plus the black eye.

    1. Pat, the sanc­tions aren’t meant to solve the prob­lem, only to send a mes­sage to the Leg­is­la­ture that the Court means business.

  2. It was clear this leg­isla­tive ses­sion was still, busi­ness as usu­al, with a token nod to the McLeary deci­sion. At stake is that this leg­is­la­ture now must do what they would not do. Cut state ser­vices by 2.3 to 2.7 bil­lion dol­lars to ade­quate­ly fund edu­ca­tion. These cuts are com­ing, and will hurt, and when it is done, it will not be busi­ness as usu­al in Olympia.

    1. It’s not pos­si­ble to cut oth­er state ser­vices to fund edu­ca­tion, Chad, unless you want to set all our pris­on­ers free and com­plete­ly close down most health and human ser­vices… which would destroy the state’s econ­o­my and hurt mil­lions of peo­ple. If you under­stand the state bud­get, then you’d know that your sug­ges­tion is ludi­crous and will nev­er hap­pen. Where do you think those bil­lions of dol­lars are going to come from? More than half of gen­er­al fund expen­di­tures already go to education.

      The notion there is all this mon­ey lying around that’s not going to edu­ca­tion, but could be, is a fan­ta­sy that the right wing per­pet­u­ates. The state has oth­er essen­tial and basic oblig­a­tions, too. I’ll add that Med­ic­aid dol­lars are pro­tect­ed due to fed­er­al match­ing funds, and debt ser­vice is con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly pro­tect­ed. Those can’t be touched. We could raid high­er ed, but that would be rob­bing Peter to pay Paul. No one in the Leg­is­la­ture will be in favor of that.

      What we real­ly need to do is raise more rev­enue. That is the best solu­tion to this fund­ing cri­sis. It’s time to impose a cap­i­tal gains tax on high earn­ers. Ida­ho, hard­ly a lib­er­al state, does it. So does Ore­gon. We can, too.

  3. It seems to me that Pat M. and Andrew are both right. The penal­ties would not fix the prob­lem, nor are they intend­ed to. They are designed to get the leg­is­la­ture’s atten­tion but are not like­ly to do that, either, giv­en the minus­cule dol­lar amount of the penalty.

    The court has made it quite clear that the cur­rent fund­ing sys­tem is unten­able. The leg­is­la­ture sim­ply must find a new source of fund­ing, and the one Andrew sug­gests is prob­a­bly it.

  4. It is the place of the elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple to deter­mine what the vague word­ing of Arti­cle IX, Sec­tion 1 of the state Con­sti­tu­tion means. (“make ample pro­vi­sion for the edu­ca­tion of all chil­dren resid­ing with­in its bor­ders”) If the peo­ple feel that more fund­ing is need­ed (an absur­di­ty giv­en the mas­sive growth in the state edu­ca­tion bud­get over the last 50 years and our nation­al rank­ing on spend­ing per stu­dent) then the peo­ple will elect rep­re­sen­ta­tives to change the fund­ing lev­el. It is NOT the role of a small num­ber of Supreme Court jus­tices to impose their inter­pre­ta­tion of it on all the people.
    By what mag­ic stan­dard is the court able to say to the dol­lar how much pro­vi­sion is exact­ly ‘ample’ and how much edu­ca­tion is defined by that statute, and what age is ‘child’ and what is young adult. This is the role of the leg­is­la­ture, not the behold­en flunkies of WEA donations.

    Remem­ber, in a free nation, the peo­ple impose their will on the gov­ern­ment, not the oth­er way around: We call that ‘tyran­ny’.

    1. Mer­rick, you don’t seem to have a very good grasp of con­sti­tu­tion­al law. If you did, you’d know and appre­ci­ate that the role of the judi­cial branch is to inter­pret laws. That’s why we have a judi­cial branch. 

      The leg­isla­tive branch makes laws, the exec­u­tive branch enforces them, and the judi­cial branch inter­prets them. Each branch keeps the oth­ers in check. That’s our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment: it’s built on the idea of sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. Dates back to the draft­ing of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion in Philadel­phia in 1787.

      As Jus­tice John Mar­shall declared in Mar­bury v. Madi­son (decid­ed in 1803), “It is emphat­i­cal­ly the province and duty of the judi­cial depart­ment to say what the law is.” 

      The Supreme Court is doing its job by inter­pret­ing Arti­cle IX, Sec­tion 1 of our state Constitution. 

      The nine jus­tices of the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court, by the way, are our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives, because at the state lev­el, we elect our jus­tices. They serve six year terms, and they must retire by the age of sev­en­ty. If a jus­tice retires or steps down, the gov­er­nor makes an appoint­ment, but oth­er­wise, who serves on the Court is deter­mined by the peo­ple.

      We have been under­fund­ing our schools for decades. That is what the McCleary case is all about. The Supreme Court found that the Leg­is­la­ture was fail­ing to pro­vide ade­quate fund­ing to meet what the Leg­is­la­ture defined as basic edu­ca­tion. Read the briefs and the Court’s orders and edu­cate your­self… you’ll learn a lot. So long as you have an open mind, that is. 

  5. When will the cit­i­zens of Wash­ing­ton State read and seri­ous­ly con­sid­er imple­ment­ing the find­ings of our 2002 Tax Study Com­mis­sion? That study found our tax sys­tem regres­sive and over-respon­sive to the ups and downs of the econ­o­my. Our under-fund­ed pub­lic pro­grams, includ­ing edu­ca­tion, fell even more behind dur­ing the eco­nom­ic down­turn begin­ning in 2008.

    The bi-par­ti­san com­mis­sion rec­om­mend­ed reduc­tions in sales and B&O tax­es and the addi­tion of a mod­er­ate income tax. It’s about time we take the tax study off the shelf and get on with what was a log­i­cal solu­tion to our inef­fec­tive and regres­sive tax structure.

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