NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

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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