Education funding case goes before WA Supreme Court

KING 5's Drew Mikkelsen reports.

Attorneys for the state of Washington told the state Supreme Court they have complied with a court mandate to fully fund the state's basic education system, but an attorney for the coalition behind the long running lawsuit disagreed.

The high court heard arguments for about an hour Tuesday during which the court's nine justices at times were visibly frustrated with answers from both sides.

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.

The Washington state Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the state has met its constitutional requirement to fully fund K-12 education.

Tuesday morning's hearing was on whether the state should still be held in contempt for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 ruling that found that school funding was not adequate. Lawmakers needed a funded plan in place this year ahead of a Sept. 1, 2018 deadline the court had set.

The plan approved and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this year relies largely on an increase to the statewide property tax that starts next year. The tax increases from $1.89 to $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, with the increase earmarked for education. The plan - which keeps in place local property tax levies but caps them beginning in 2019 at a lower level- will ultimately raise property taxes for some districts and lower them in others.

Assistant Attorney General Alan Copsey, representing the legislators, said the contempt order should be lifted, following the action taken by lawmakers earlier this year.

Legislators voted to increase the state's property tax while limiting how much money local school districts can raise through levies.

The justices had ruled allowing local districts to rely on levies gave affluent districts an unfair advantage.

Copsey said lawmakers had met all of the justices demands, with one requiring an explanation.

Justices had required "ample" funding be in place for Washington students in 2018.

Copsey said half of the funding for teacher raises would be in place in 2018, with the other half coming in 2019.

"What we're talking about here is a major piece of legislation that fundamentally changes the way schools in the state of Washington are funded," said Copsey.

Tom Ahearne, attorney for the McCleary family, who filed the original lawsuit in 2007, argued more money needed to be raised during the next legislative session.

"Changing the name of the funding doesn't change the underfunding," said Ahearne.

The justices appeared frustrated with both sides.

They asked Ahearne what they should, or could do, and they questioned Copsey about failing to meet their 2018 deadline.

"We're here today and what has been brought is something that says, 'Well, we're not going to do it all. We'll do some and more later," said Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst.

Stephanie McCleary, the mother who filed the original lawsuit, said she thought the justices appeared frustrated.

"I hope they're frustrated," said McCleary, who wants lawmakers ordered to come up with additional school funding next year.

She does not think the contempt order should be lifted, despite the funding increases.

© 2017 KING-TV


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