Olympia, Washington – In a unanimous ruling issued August 13, 2015, the Washington Supreme Court ordered the State to pay $100,000 per day into an education fund because it has failed to produce a plan as to how it will fully fund basic K-12 education by 2018, a “deadline the legislature itself adopted.”
The State has failed to fulfill its constitutional duty to fund its public schools, set by the Washington Constitution, which states:
It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. Article IX, §§ 1, 2.
While the Court commended the legislature for making “significant progress in some key areas” in the recently adopted 2015-17 budget, it also noted areas in which “there is far to go.” Moreover, the Court reiterated both its “obligation to enforce the commands of the Washington Constitution,” and its statements “that it will not dictate the details of how the State [decides] to achieve full funding of basic education.”
The Court’s ruling concludes, “Given the gravity of the State’s ongoing violation of its constitutional obligation … the time has come for the court to impose sanctions.”
As reported by The Seattle Times, the governor and legislative leaders plan to meet on Monday to renew their efforts to address their school funding obligations.
As reported by the Associated Press, Thomas Ahearne, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said that “the state has known for many, many years that it’s violating the constitutional rights of our public school kids. And the state has been told by the court in rulings in this case to fix it, and the state has just been dillydallying along.”
David Sciarra, executive director of the national Education Law Center, said, “There’s no other state court ruling in this area in a case involving inadequate school funding that has done this. This is really a court that is obviously frustrated and fed up with ongoing noncompliance with its orders and with the state’s constitution, over quite a long period.”
All 50 state constitutions require their state to establish and fund education for its children. These provisions are in the constitutions because education is so fundamental to preservation of democracy and a republican form of government.
Yet, too many states across the country are failing to provide fair funding for the essential resources necessary to offer genuine learning opportunities to their students. In some of those states, including Washington, plaintiffs have traveled the long journey through the courts to prove shocking resource deficits and harm to schoolchildren.
After court rulings ordering states to bring their funding systems into compliance with their state constitutions, some states enact thorough and effective remedies. But a few legislatures and governors resist, in Kansas and Arizona, for example.
In 2007, plaintiffs filed McCleary v. State, arguing that although the State has developed standards for a constitutional “basic education,” it is not funding that education.
In 2010, after a trial on the merits, the Superior Court held that the state funding system was unconstitutional because it neither determined the cost of nor provided the resources needed for a basic education for all children in the state, as the constitution requires.
In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court ruling, and the legislature enacted what the Court described as “a promising reform package.” Notably, the high court retained jurisdiction and required annual reports from the legislature as to its progress toward implementation of its own “promising reform package” goal of full funding by fiscal year 2018.
In 2014, after the legislature failed to comply with court orders to demonstrate sufficient annual progress, the Court held the legislature in contempt. The Court refrained from imposing any sanction at that time, but instead ordered the state to submit a complete plan after the 2015 legislative session.
Director, Education Justice
973-624-1815, x 19
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications