The Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state is not on track to meet the September 1, 2018 deadline to fully implement its program of basic education.
The court acknowledged that “the State has made significant progress in fully funding the program of basic education” but notes that the funding system adopted, “delays by over a year implementation of a constitutionally compliant salary model, a critical part of meaningful reform.”
The ruling continues daily sanctions and an order for the state to report its progress toward full compliance by April 9, 2018.
“The court’s constitutional responsibility is to the schoolchildren of this state who have an enforceable right under article IX, section 1 to an amply funded education,” said the court in a statement. “We cannot erode that constitutional right by saying that the State is now ‘close enough’ to constitutional compliance.”
Washington Education Association President Kim Mead applauded the ruling.
"This ruling proves what we said during the session —the budget represents progress but doesn’t meet the McCleary mandate to amply fund k-12 public schools by Sept. 1 of next year. The Constitution makes a promise to Washington children — all of them have the right to an amply funded quality public education. We look forward to working with legislators in January to finally meet that promise," Mead said in a statement.
Since 2014, the state has been held in contempt by the court for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 ruling that found that it was not adequately funding schools.
Coming up with additional funding to implement the plan earlier could require another billion dollars.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-Clark County, said she does not see that happening during the next session.
"It's simply not possible," said Rivers, who noted lawmakers came up with $7 billion during the last session.
She also said the mechanisms needed to get all the funding into the schools requires more time.
"It would be like saying to the captain of the Titanic, 'We need you to turn right now.' This is a huge, huge undertaking," said Rivers.
Would lawmakers be willing to avoid taking any action? Supreme Courts in other states have closed schools over similar funding disputes.
"I don't want to risk that option," said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.
Rolfes said she was not surprised the justices kept the sanctions against lawmakers in place.
She said she knew there was more work to be done, but raising more increases to accomplish that work is not as clear.
"We all have funding McCleary on our work plans," said Rolfes. "Whether we can find a billion dollars for the 2018 school year is another question that the legislature is going to have to address, and none of us has talked about that."
Rolfes said while there likely would not be support for raising property taxes again, she said all other funding options would be on the table when lawmakers come back to Olympia in January.