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.
“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.