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Court fining state government $100,000 per day for failure to fund education

The Washington State Supreme Court is fining state government $100,000 per day over the Legislature’s continued failure to pass a plan to fully fund public education.
The Washington State Supreme Court is fining state government $100,000 per day over the Legislature’s continued failure to pass a plan to fully fund public education. Staff file, 2013

The state Supreme Court is fining Washington state government $100,000 per day over the Legislature’s continued failure to pass a plan to fully fund public education.

The contempt sanctions issued Thursday are part of the court’s latest order in the long-running McCleary case, in which the court ruled in 2012 that the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education in the state, and must do so by 2018.

In January 2014, the court ordered state lawmakers to come up with a plan to fully fund education by the 2018 deadline. Court justices held the state in contempt last September over the Legislature’s failure to produce such a plan, but said they would wait to impose sanctions until after seeing what the Legislature accomplished during its 2015 session.

Lawmakers adjourned in July with a budget that put more money toward reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, paying for school materials and operating costs, and expanding all-day kindergarten – each key parts of the McCleary decision.

But they didn’t come up with a plan for reducing the state’s reliance on local levies to pay for basic education costs, which the court has clearly said are a state responsibility, not a local one.

In a decision signed by all nine justices Thursday, the court ordered the state to begin paying the daily fine of $100,000 starting immediately, and place the money in a special account to benefit basic education.

The court also urged Gov. Jay Inslee to convene a special session of the Legislature, in which lawmakers could pass an education funding plan that would bring the state into compliance.

Should the Legislature do so in a special session, the court said, it would vacate all the daily penalties accrued while lawmakers are meeting; otherwise, the fines will continue to mount.

“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,” the ruling said.

It wasn’t immediately clear Thursday whether Inslee would call lawmakers back to Olympia to address the court’s order. As of late Thursday morning, the governor’s office had yet to respond to requests for comment.

Shortly after the ruling, some Republican lawmakers took to Twitter to say the court had overstepped its bounds. State Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, took it as far as to say the Legislature should look into removing some of the justices from office or at least investigating their conduct.

“The Washington Supreme Court has gone rogue. It is time for articles of impeachment,” Manweller tweeted.

 
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