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Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Washington’s public schools still aren’t amply funded, state Supreme Court concludes

The Washington State Supreme Court today weighed in on the work product of the 2017 legislative session, finding that while lawmakers had made progress in complying with its directives to amply fund the state’s public schools, the 2017-2019 operating budget only funds half of the teacher salary increase called for by the new model state legislators agreed upon, which means the state is still in contempt of court and still in violation of Article IX of the State Constitution.

Accordingly, in a unanimous order signed by all nine of its members, the Court has ordered that the $100,000 a day penalty remain in place for the time being.

It also ordered the other branches of state government, through the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation, to report back following the 2018 regular session (to be held January — March 2018) detailing what actions were taken to bring about full implementation of the state’s plan for basic education.

The Court noted that full implementation is supposed to happen by September 1st, 2018, but the state isn’t on track to meet this deadline.

In addition to reporting back, the state must also file a brief “addressing the adequacy of its compliance with this court’s orders and McCleary.”

Both the report and the brief must be filed and served by Monday, April 9th, 2018.

“As things stand today, the salary allocation model enacted in EHB 2242 complies with the State’s obligation to fully fund K-12 basic education salaries, but it will not be implemented by September 1, 2018,” the justices wrote.

“The State thus remains out of full compliance with its constitutional duty under article IX, section 1. Accordingly, the court will retain jurisdiction to ensure full constitutional compliance by the established deadline, and it will maintain the sanction of $100,000 per day’ with the expectation that the State will enact measures to achieve full compliance during the 2018 regular session.”

(The order emphasizes the word regular through the use of italics. The Court is sending Governor Inslee and lawmakers a message: figure out how to increase teacher pay to achieve compliance before winter is over. No more procrastinating. Don’t try to buy yourselves more time by calling a series of special sessions.)

“If such measures are not enacted by the end of the regular session,” the order goes on to say, “the court will immediately address the need to impose additional remedial measures. Of course, the most natural remedy lies with the legislature, which can fulfill its constitutional obligation by fully implementing the program of basic education by the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.”

The very last line of the Court’s order declares that upon receiving the Legislature’s report of the 2018 session and upon having accepted arguments from the state and plaintiffs, the Court will determine what, if any, further actions to take.

The document containing the text of the order runs forty-six pages, including the front and back matter. It’s a lengthy read.

My initial assessment of it is that the justices have really seized the opportunity to stake out their own position on the question of McCleary compliance. There’s something in this order for everybody involved in the case to dislike.

The justices rejected or sidestepped many of the arguments made by the plaintiffs as well as amici permitted to file “friend of the court” briefs, yet refused to relinquish jurisdiction or bring the case to an end as attorneys for the state had requested.

After making clear they do not agree with plaintiffs or amici that critical components of our K-12 public schools like special education remained underfunded, the justices proceeded to pointedly reject the state’s contention that the time is ripe to bring the case to a close, given the progress that was supposedly made this year.

“While the court can appreciate the political and budgetary challenges that may explain the State’s decision to postpone full funding of the salary model, it cannot accept part compliance as full compliance,” the justices declared.

“The court’s constitutional responsibility is to the schoolchildren of this state who have an enforceable right under article IX, section 1 to an amply funded education. We cannot erode that constitutional right by saying that the State is now ‘close enough’ to constitutional compliance. The goals have long been clear, the deadline has long been clear, and the meaning of ‘amply fund’ has long been clear.”

“Until the State enacts measures that fully implement its program of basic education by the September 1, 2018 deadline, it remains out of compliance. The court will retain jurisdiction, continue to impose daily sanctions, and reserve all enforcement options to compel compliance with its decision and orders.”

“I’m encouraged the court recognized the incredible progress we’ve made toward fully funding basic education,” said Governor Jay Inslee in a statement.

“As the court noted, the plan the Legislature adopted, but for the timing, will meet constitutional requirements. I share the court’s disappointment that the Legislature did not meet its self-imposed 2018 deadline for fully funding basic education. The plan I put forward nearly a year ago would have done so.”

“I want to remind everyone that solving the McCleary decision is only one stop on our journey to give our students the education system they deserve.”

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