Lawmakers tell court they’ve met their school-funding mandate

The Legislature has approved a report to the state Supreme Court about the so-called McCleary case.

OLYMPIA — A bipartisan panel of lawmakers on Tuesday approved a report for the Supreme Court that they hope could bring an end to the McCleary case, the 11-year legal battle that has spurred an unprecedented surge in state funding for public schools.

With no debate, six Democratic and Republican lawmakers adopted the 16-page report on actions taken in the 2018 legislative session to make sure the state complies with the court’s September deadline to provide ample money for education.

“Hopefully this will be our final one,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, before the vote. “We’ll see how that goes.”

Lawmakers thought they had done everything they needed to do in 2017. But last November, justices concluded the Legislature’s plan to phase-in funding for salaries of teachers, staff and administrators through the 2019 school year would be one year too late.

So, lawmakers responded by earmarking $775.8 million in the supplemental state budget for cover the tab for salaries by this fall and thus satisfy the court.

“That had to be done. We’ve done that,” said Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, another committee member.

And it’s why lawmakers are feeling confident the end is near for the legal odyssey.

A lawsuit filed in 2007 by the McCleary and the Venema families led to the 2012 ruling by the Supreme Court that state funding for education is not adequate, equitable or ample. Justices also found the school funding system unconstitutional because it caused school districts to use local property taxes to cover the gap in state funding for basic education.

The court set a Sept. 1, 2018, deadline for the state to fix the problems.

In 2014, 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 added a $100,000-a-day sanction.

Since the ruling, the level of state funding for elementary and secondary education has risen 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.

As part of the original decision, the court required yearly progress reports from the Legislature. A committee of two lawmakers from the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate was formed to draft and craft the annual updates.

Thomas Ahearne, attorney for the families and a coalition of educator groups that brought the suit, said in an email he needed to review the numbers in the latest report to see if the money allotted by the state is enough money to provide each student an amply funded education as required under the state constitution.

And he noted the upcoming 2018 school year will be the first chance for the court to judge the “constitutional adequacy” of all the changes enacted by the Legislature.

This year’s report is the seventh produced by the special committee. It is due Monday. The Attorney General’s Office will file a separate legal brief in which it is expected to argue for the contempt to be purged, the fine to be ended and the litigation concluded.

Once those are filed with the court, Ahearne will get 20 days to file a response on behalf of the coalition.

Once that is in, the state will get 10 days to rebut the arguments. Then it is in the hands of the Supreme Court justices who could hold a hearing or simply send out an order on whether the state had complied.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, a committee member, said even when the case ends lawmakers will continue working on how to bolster support of public schools.

The difference, he said, is “we will be able to look at investments without the court looking over our shoulder.”

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

Talk to us

More in Local News

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Timely police reform; Ferguson weighs in on drug possession

Here’s what’s happening on Day 101 of the 2021 session of the Washington Legislature.

George Floyd. This is a selfie in the public domain. 20210420
Snohomish County reacts: ‘Justice served’ by guilty verdict

Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty Tuesday in the death of George Floyd.

Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Club president Zachary Nelson explains to a pair of students how the currency works while handing out free cryptocurrency at the University of Washington Bothell on Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Crypto’s wild ride: It’s winning fans from here to Wall Street

Digital currency is worth trillions to traders betting on Dogecoin, Bitcoin and other blockchains.

With desks stacked away to provide social distance spacing, tenth grader Zendon Bugge attends a World History class during the first day of school for Everett High students on Monday, April 19, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Students statewide returned to school buildings on Monday

Districts are now required to provide in-person class two days a week for kids through grade 12.

Langley has become a passport hotspot for off-islanders

In Snohomish County, appointments are reportedly booked out months in advance.

Snohomish County kicks off new rental assistance program

It starts with nearly $25 million from the U.S. Treasury Department. More funding is expected soon.

Witness, shell casing tie murder to Central Whidbey

A 67-year-old Freeland man whose body was found in Blaine may have been shot near the Coupeville Ferry.

Drivers go around a roundabout at 204th Street NE and 77th Avenue NE on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
As Amazon moves in, Arlington’s roads are already strained

The city and state are spending millions to improve traffic flow with more lanes and roundabouts.

One crime, two very different punishments for Everett teens

Two young men went on an armed robbery spree. One was sentenced to seven years in prison. The other, zero.

Most Read