The Washington state Supreme Court is fining the Legislature $100,000 a day effective immediately for failing to come up with a plan to fully fund K-12 education.
The fines, levied Thursday, stem from the McCleary case, brought by families and others who said the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional obligation to “amply fund” basic education in this state.
In 2012, the court ruled that the state had violated its only “paramount duty” under the state Constitution, to provide “for the education of all children residing within its borders.”
The court ordered lawmakers to come up with a plan to dramatically increase K-12 funding by 2018.
But one legislative session after another, the court has repeatedly found that lawmakers haven't gone far enough to boost funding.
Last year the plaintiffs asked the court to hold the state in contempt. The court heard arguments in September, then found for the plaintiffs and threatened sanctions if the Legislature failed to come up with a plan by the end of this legislative session.
State lawmakers did add $1.3 billion to the budget for K-12 education – but admitted they still have no plan for future funding.
In the report that they’re required to submit to the court after every budget is approved, lawmakers wrote that a plan isn’t really necessary given all the action they’ve taken.
They asked the court to remove the contempt order or delay any sanctions until the 2018 deadline.
The court unanimously disagreed Thursday, ordering sanctions against the state of $100,000 per day, beginning now.
The court encouraged Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session to figure out an education funding plan.
Inslee said in a statement that he would confer with the state attorney general and legislative leaders about the next steps.
“The court today made it clear that bolder and more aggressive action is needed to support Washington’s students and their teachers,” Inslee said. “The detailed plan the court demands in order to fulfill our constitutional obligation is going to have to be more complex and expensive than the significant steps we’ve already taken.”
Some legislators are calling this a tremendous judicial overreach – an accusation lobbed for years about the court’s role in overseeing the Legislature’s progress on McCleary.
Republican state Rep. Matt Manweller of Ellensburg tweeted Thursday:
“The Washington Supreme Court has gone rogue. It is time for articles of impeachment.”
Democratic Sens. Pramila Jayapal and David Frockt, both of Seattle, said they voted against the budget because there was no plan to pay for education.
“All I can do is say that many of us have thought all along that the direction we were heading was not sufficient,” Frockt said. “I hope this will compel action quickly. We really are at the zero hour.”
It’s unclear where the money to pay for the fines will come from. Frockt said there are reserves that could be tapped.
The court ordered that the money be held in an account for basic education.
And the order said that if a special session is called, the sanctions that accrue during the session can be refunded if the Legislature comes up with a funding plan during that session.
If the governor doesn’t call a special session, that could mean up to $15 million in sanctions by the time the Legislature is set to reconvene next January.
Frockt said the only time the state Supreme Court sanctioned lawmakers was back in the 1960s, when the justices refused to let the lawmakers handle any other business before they settled a redistricting issue.
Produced for the Web by Gil Aegerter.