The Venema family of Snohomish in 2015. They and others successfully sued the state for failure to adequately fund education. When the lawsuit was filed in 2007, Halie Venema (top left) was a freshman at Snohomish High School and Robbie Venema (top right) was a sixth-grader at Cathcart Elementary. Their parents are Patty (lower left) and Tod Venema. (Herald file)

The Venema family of Snohomish in 2015. They and others successfully sued the state for failure to adequately fund education. When the lawsuit was filed in 2007, Halie Venema (top left) was a freshman at Snohomish High School and Robbie Venema (top right) was a sixth-grader at Cathcart Elementary. Their parents are Patty (lower left) and Tod Venema. (Herald file)

11-year legal battle over school spending finally ends

The daily sanctions in the case known as McCleary are over, but the issue is far from resolved.

OLYMPIA — The landmark school funding case known as McCleary came to a quiet end Thursday but the conversation on how much the state must spend to provide students a quality education is far from over.

In a unanimous order, the state Supreme Court ruled the state had complied with its order to ensure ample funding for the basic education of students in the public school system by Sept. 1, 2018.

Justices also purged the state of contempt, ended a $100,000-a-day sanction and terminated its oversight in the case that began in 2007 when two families — the McClearys of Jefferson County and the Venemas of Snohomish — challenged the adequacy of state funding.

“It’s been a long time,” Patty Venema said Thursday. Lawmakers ”have come a long way and they have put a lot more money into education. But I don’t think they are done with this issue of funding.

“Education is evolving and changing, and if the state doesn’t stay on top of it, well, it may be another family, or it maybe my children who will need to step in and to make sure the state fully funds education the way our Constitution mandates it,” she said.

The case pivoted on a provision in the state Constitution that says it is the “paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children.”

In the lawsuit filed Jan. 11, 2007, the plaintiffs alleged that the state had not lived up to its obligation, forcing school districts to rely too heavily on local property taxes to make up the difference. They wanted the court to make the state rebalance the system.

When Patty and Tod Venema signed on, their daughter, Halie, was 15 and at the freshman campus of Snohomish High School and their son, Robbie, was 12 and in the sixth grade at Cathcart Elementary. Today he’s in college and she’s working in Seattle as an interior designer.

King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick ruled in February 2010 that the state had not met its constitutional obligations for school funding.

“It validated everything I and my husband had been feeling about the lack of funding,” Patty Venema recalled.

Two years later the state Supreme Court came to the same conclusion. It didn’t require an overnight fix, instead giving the state until Sept. 1, 2018, to comply and required annual progress reports.

Plaintiff Stephanie McCleary (center) in 2014 with her children, Kelsey (left), then 20, and Carter, then 15, outside the state Supreme Court in Olympia (Elaine Thompson / AP file)

Plaintiff Stephanie McCleary (center) in 2014 with her children, Kelsey (left), then 20, and Carter, then 15, outside the state Supreme Court in Olympia (Elaine Thompson / AP file)

In 2014, frustrated by what they considered a slow pace of progress, the court held the state in contempt for failing to submit a plan laying out the steps to be taken to assure compliance by the deadline.

In August 2015, with no plan submitted, the court imposed a $100,000-a-day sanction. Lawmakers set aside $105.2 million in the current budget to account for the fines, and those dollars will now be plowed back into public schools as demanded by the court.

Lawmakers put the last piece of the puzzle into place this year when they earmarked nearly $1 billion for salaries for teachers, staff and administrators. The dollars will boost the state-funded portion of educator wages. They also are intended to supplant any local levy dollars now going into those salaries.

Since the 2012 decision, the level of state funding for elementary and secondary education has nearly doubled. It has climbed from $13.4 billion in the 2011-13 biennium to $22.8 billion in the current two-year budget. It is projected to be $26.7 billion in the next budget.

A strong economy helped lawmakers come up with a chunk of those dollars. A big portion will also be coming from an increase in the state property tax rate, which lawmakers passed and Gov. Jay Inslee signed in 2017. It took effect this year.

To offset the increase, lawmakers reduced the amount of money districts can raise from local property tax levies. Those lower levy rates will be in effect starting in 2019.

“The state is now providing a level of funding for education they deemed appropriate 10 years ago,” Venema said. “If the Supreme Court had not kept jurisdiction, I’m positive our Legislature would not have funded it the way they did. They would have tried skate by with as little as possible.”

Issuance of the court order spawned a stream of statements from educators and lawmakers celebrating the news while asserting the dialogue on dollars will continue.

“Reversing decades of underfunding has been among the heaviest lifts we’ve faced in recent years and required difficult and complex decisions, but I’m incredibly proud and grateful for all those who came together on a bipartisan basis to get this job done,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said.

“We know that our children need more than just a basic education. This is not the end of our efforts to ensure schools are able to provide students everything they need to succeed and thrive,” he said.

The leader of the statewide teachers union called it “a tremendous day for the 1.1 million students of Washington state.”

“We mark this milestone as a victory for them and public education,” said Kim Mead, of Edmonds, president of the Washington Education Association, which has helped pay for the lawsuit.

“We also recognize there is more to do,” she said. “Class sizes are still too overcrowded, and we need to do more to ensure all students get the personal attention and support they need to be successful. For now, we thank the Legislature and the court for completing this important and historic chapter in school funding.”

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, wrote the 2017 budget containing the blueprint for the investments to comply with the court order.

“We were finally able to make historic investments over the last five years by putting the needs of students, teachers and parents first in our budgets,” he said. “The fact that the end result also pleases the court is a positive resolution.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

Rose Freeman (center) and Anastasia Allison of The Musical Mountaineers play atop Sauk Mountain near Concrete in October 2017. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Musical Mountaineers’ sunset serenade to launch Adopt a Stream campaign

The nonprofit aims to transform into an “accessible model of sustainability,” with solar panels, electric vehicles and more.

A Marysville firefighter sprays water on a smoking rail car at the intersection of 116th Street NE and State Avenue around 8 a.m. Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
Rail car catches fire, blocks traffic in Marysville

Around 7:20 a.m. Thursday, firefighters responded to reports of smoke coming from a rail car near 172th Street NE, officials said.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Firefighters transported two people to hospitals while extinguishing an apartment fire near Lake Ballinger in Edmonds Wednesday.
2 injured in Edmonds apartment fire

At least nine people were displaced by the fire on 236th Street SW, officials said. Nearly 50 firefighters responded.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff place a radio collar on a Grizzly Bear in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife / Wayne Kasworm)
For grizzly bears coming to Cascades, radio collars will keep close tabs

Tracking an apex predator is tricky. GPS collars play a central role in a controversial plan to repopulate grizzlies in Washington’s wilderness.

Maplewood Parent Cooperative School seventh and eighth grade students listen to Mason Rolph of Olympia Community Solar speak about different solar projects during a science class for the student's Sustainable Schools engineering units on Friday, June 7, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
How can Edmonds make new schools more sustainable? Students have ideas

In a town hall Friday, students from Maplewood Parent Co-op will make pitches for the soon-to-be rebuilt College Place schools.

Pride flag vandalism raises concerns on Whidbey Island

Reports of theft involving LGBTQ+ pride-themed displays have increased around South Whidbey.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.