Washington’s highest court wants to hear more from the state’s attorneys about how the Legislature plans to fully fund schools by 2018 — including how much the fix will cost.
The state Supreme Court issued an order Thursday setting a new date for oral arguments in the McCleary case, in which the court ruled four years ago that the state was failing to fully fund basic education.
At the Sept. 7 hearing, the court wants the McCleary plaintiffs and the state to explain what steps the Legislature has taken to solve school-funding problems, and what remains to be done. Significantly, the court also wants to know how much it will cost to resolve the remaining funding issues, and how the state intends to pay.
Those topics are ones state lawmakers dodged earlier this year when they created a task force to study school-funding issues further, while promising to solve it all next year.
“What remains to be done to achieve compliance is undeniably huge, but it is not undefinable,” the court’s order reads.
“… the State can certainly set out for the court and the people of Washington the detailed steps it must take to accomplish its goals by the end of the next legislative session.”
A detailed implementation plan is something the court has ordered before, but the Legislature failed to deliver. The court held the state in contempt in 2014 over the Legislature’s failure to deliver such a plan, and started imposing $100,000 a day in sanctions last year after lawmakers again failed to produce one. The court ordered the daily fines — which top $30 million so far — to be placed in a separate account to benefit basic education.
The court will decide whether to lift the contempt order and the fines following the Sept. 7 hearing, according to its Thursday order.
While the Legislature has put billions more into K-12 schools since the court’s 2012 McCleary ruling, lawmakers still must find a way to end the use of local school district property levies to pay for school employee salaries.
That issue has been a politically difficult one, because it most likely involves adjusting property tax rates, as well as tweaking collective bargaining rights for teachers.