State gets positive report on education

OLYMPIA — State attorneys on Monday urged the Supreme Court to dissolve a contempt order against the Legislature, arguing lawmakers are on pace to ensure the state fully funds basic education for public school students by a 2018 deadline.

They contended lawmakers have met or will meet every benchmark set by the court in the McCleary case and no longer need to prepare the plan justices demanded when they issued the contempt order last year.

“The State has made real and measurable progress in meeting its constitutional obligations to Washington’s schoolchildren,” Assistant Attorney General David Stolier wrote in a brief filed late Monday.

“Although work remains to be done, the 2015 Legislature’s actions move the State closer to ultimate constitutional compliance than any written plan would have done, and continuing to demand a plan at this point would serve no useful purpose,” he wrote. “The contempt order should be dissolved.”

But the lead attorney for the parents and alliance of school organizations behind the McCleary lawsuit countered that lawmakers continue to procrastinate and urged justices to take action.

“The time for this Court to act is now,” wrote attorney Thomas Ahearne in a brief also filed Monday. “The State’s ongoing violation of its paramount education funding duty — and of Washington children’s corresponding paramount constitutional right — has been continuing for far too long.

“The time has come for this Court to make what some would call a ‘fish or cut bait’ decision,” Ahearne wrote. “Either stand up and enforce Washington schoolchildren’s positive constitutional right to an amply funded education, or sit down and confess it was only kidding when it assured Washington schoolchildren that this Court would vigilantly protect them from the government’s violation of their constitutional rights.”

Justices are likely to hold a hearing before determining their next step.

Stolier argued against sanctions but said if the court decides to leave the contempt finding in place it would serve to keep lawmakers focused on completing their task.

Ahearne suggested justices consider a couple of sanctions including barring lawmakers from acting on any legislation not tied to the case or even ordering them back into a fourth special session to finish their work.

Monday’s filings revive the continuing tension between the legislative and judicial branches in the area of public school funding.

In 2012, justices found lawmakers were violating the state constitution by not covering the cost of basic education for 1 million elementary and secondary schools. That failure is forcing local districts to rely too heavily on levies to pay for such things as classroom expenses and teacher salaries. They ordered the Legislature to re-balance the system by the 2017-18 school year.

Last fall, the court issued its contempt order and gave lawmakers until the end of the regular 2015 session to submit a plan detailing how they would meet the deadline. Justices postponed consideration of sanctions or other remedial measures until the session adjourned.

Stolier filed two documents with the court Monday. One was a report approved by lawmakers outlining how they had increased spending by nearly $2,500 per student since the decision and detailing all the places the money had gone. The report also acknowledged they still need to reform the levy system and establish a statewide pay scale for school employees.

The second document was Stolier’s brief addressing the contempt order.

“The State is well along the path toward the constitutional compliance this Court ordered in its 2012 decision,” Stolier concluded.

But Ahearne countered that with only three budget years left until the deadline, the state needs to be pushed harder.

“Plaintiffs respectfully submit that crossing one’s fingers and punting is not the type of complete implementation and full funding plan” the court wanted from the Legislature, he wrote.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;

Talk to us

More in Local News

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
1 dead, 1 in hospital after 3-vehicle crash on Highway 9

A concrete pumping truck and two sedans crashed Monday afternoon, closing the highway near Bickford Avenue.

Moses Malachi Brewer appears in court for sentencing Friday, March 24, 2023, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Man sentenced to 18 years for 2019 shooting in Everett

Moses Brewer, 23, shot four people in an Everett apartment, which left one victim paralyzed on his right side.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
Health care spending continues to outpace inflation, driven by prices

Can state efforts curb 6.7% growth per year in overall health care spending?

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
A buffet of budgets, a bunch of whales and a request for your miles

It’s Day 78. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

A Sounder gray whale. (Cascadia Research)
Don’t be flummoxed: Help is needed to name 5 Puget Sound gray whales

The voting poll on the Sounders, as these whales are called, is until Sunday for the grays dining in our waters.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police investigating cause of fatal 3-vehicle crash on Highway 9

The man, 61, crossed the center line in Snohomish on Monday and crashed into the truck, the sheriff’s office said.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Jay’s bond, REET in reserve and Blake fix gets twisted

It’s Day 80. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

Public Works director Kelly Snyder. (Snohomish County)
Ex-staffer who alleged bias by county Public Works director gets $97K

Amy Powell alleged Director Kelly Snyder created an abusive work environment that made her “uncomfortable and physically unwell.”

Richard Rotter listens to witness testimony in his trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
As prosecution rests, jury hears jail call after Everett cop killing

“Try to put a wild cat inside a cage? … See what happens,” said Richard Rotter, accused of killing officer Dan Rocha.

Most Read