Washington

High court weighs whether to punish state further over school funding

The Temple of Justice in Olympia is the meeting place of the state Supreme Court of Washington. On Wednesday, the court will hear additional arguments in the school-funding case known as McCleary.
The Temple of Justice in Olympia is the meeting place of the state Supreme Court of Washington. On Wednesday, the court will hear additional arguments in the school-funding case known as McCleary. Staff file, 2013

Attorneys for Washington state and the coalition that sued the state over school funding nearly a decade ago will appear before the state Supreme Court Wednesday to argue how the court should proceed in the landmark case known as McCleary.

The high court originally ruled in 2012 that Washington state was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to fully fund public schools, and must resolve the funding gap by 2018.

The state is now in contempt of court and being fined $100,000 a day over the Legislature’s failure to deliver a plan to meet the 2018 funding deadline.

Attorneys for the state will argue Wednesday that a bill lawmakers passed earlier this yearSenate Bill 6195 — constitutes the detailed phase-in plan the court has been asking for since January 2014. In briefs recently filed with the court, the state’s lawyers have argued the court should end the sanctions and lift the contempt order.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the group of parents, school districts and education advocates that sued the state say that bill is nothing more than an empty promise, and that sanctions against the state should be increased.

The hearing begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Demonstrators on both sides of the issue are expected to gather beforehand on the steps of the Temple of Justice in Olympia.

While lawmakers have poured billions more dollars into public education since the 2012 McCleary ruling, they have left one of the thorniest problems until the last minute: Ending the unconstitutional use of local school district levies to pay for school-employee salaries.

The court has said that paying teachers and other school employees is a basic education expenditure that should be borne by the state, not local school districts.

The plan lawmakers passed earlier this year doesn’t say how the Legislature plans to solve the salary problem, or how much it will cost for the state pick up the personnel costs that are being unconstitutionally paid for by local school districts.

Instead, the measure created another task force to study the issue, while pledging to come up with a solution in 2017.

The court’s nine justices won’t issue a decision Wednesday about whether or not to continue sanctions against the state.

A decision is expected in the coming weeks or months, prior to the Legislature’s scheduled return to Olympia in January.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

  Comments