What education inaction could mean

Fourteen months ago Seattle attorney Thomas Ahearne beat the state in one of the most important lawsuits in Washington history.

Yet his clients are still waiting for the state to pay up.

If it doesn’t start soon, even incrementally, lawmakers could face consequences such as a fine, a pay freeze or, as improbable as it sounds, time behind bars.

Ahearn represented two families with school-age children, the McClearys and Venemas, a coalition of districts and education organs known as the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, and, literally, a million public school students.

He convinced the Supreme Court that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to provide all students with an amply funded program of basic education.

Justices, in last year’s McCleary decision, gave lawmakers and the governor until 2018 to fully comply, knowing the cost could reach into the billions of dollars.

A majority of the court wants to see steady progress toward compliance beginning with a down payment in the budget the Legislature passes and Gov. Jay Inslee signs this year.

If that amount is deemed inadequate, the court can respond in a variety of ways, Ahearne said.

In his view justices can:

•issue a writ of mandamus compelling the Legislature to act;

• invalidate the budget plan and make it be redone;

• nullify payments for specific items such as salaries or dry cleaning and steer the dollars into education;

• find lawmakers in contempt of the court’s orders and fine them; and

• send one or more lawmakers to jail as punishment for being in contempt.

Locking someone up would be an overreach, Ahearne said. Doing nothing is not an option either as his clients are concerned too many lawmakers aren’t taking the McCleary decision serious enough.

“Some lawmakers are trying to do something about this. There are some that are obstructing justice in my view,” Nick Brossoit, leader of the NEWS coalition and superintendent of the Edmonds School District, said at a Sunday conference of school district superintendents and trustees.

Put Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, in the column of those trying to do something.

He’s the chief budget writer for House Democrats and wants to pump $1.7 billion into basic education in the two-year spending plan he’s crafting right now. It’s too soon to know what will be the final sum.

If justices don’t think the adopted budget measures up to their dictates, they should declare it unconstitutional and make us redo it, he said.

That would cause a bit of chaos. Lawmakers would need to rush back to Olympia for a special session while the governor cut spending in most agencies until a new budget reached his desk.

Such a drastic step might be a wake-up call for any legislator doubting the high court’s seriousness in wanting its decision carried out, he said.

Right now, Ahearne is closely watching the Legislature. Eventually he will urge justices to take some action because time is wasting for his clients.

“At some point the Supreme Court must make a fundamental decision on whether constitutional rights are being violated here and what they are going to do about it,” he said.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s best images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

This week’s Herald Super Kid is Nathan Nicholson of Snohomish High School. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
‘The future is biotech,’ but for now he’s busy with everything

Snohomish senior Nathan Nicholson is a student leader and media master.

Longboarders from near and far hit the trail in Arlington

The Centennial Sk8 Festival was serious competition for some and just for fun for others.

Council passes six-month moratorium on safe injection sites

Proposal by County Councilman Nate Nehring passed unanimously.

Crews recover body of man who fell over Wallace Falls

The area where the man fell is called Sky Valley Lookout, 2.4 miles from the parking lot.

Big fire destroys building on Broadway in Everett

A person was rescued, but there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Luring attempt reported in Mountlake Terrace

The driver allegedly instructed a boy to get in the truck and help grab a scooter he was giving away.

A place to live: Clearing a barrier for former sex workers

A nonprofit’s house “will be a safe place” for former prostitutes and sex-trafficking victims.

A customer walks away after buying a hot dog from a vendor on 33rd St and Smith Street near the Everett Station on Friday. The Everett Station District Alliance pictures the area east of Broadway and south of Hewitt Avenue as a future neighborhood and transit hub that could absorb expected population growth. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
How can Everett Station become a vibrant part of city?

A neighborhood alliance focused on long-term revitalization will update the public Tuesday.

Most Read