The state Supreme Court on Thursday found the state Legislature in contempt for not producing a detailed plan for funding public schools but won’t immediately punish lawmakers.
Rather, justices will give them a chance to act in the 2015 legislative session and, if they fail, would then consider imposing sanctions, according to the five-page ruling issued Thursday morning.
Chief Justice Barbara Madsen authored the unanimous decision.
“In the interest of comity and continuing dialogue between the branches of government, the court accepts the State’s assurances that it will be compliant by the end of the 2015 session,” Madsen wrote.
“If the contempt is not purged by adjournment of the 2015 legislature, the court will reconvene and impose sanctions or other remedial measures,” she wrote.
The ruling is the latest milestone in the lengthy legal fight to force the state to carry out its constitutional duty of amply funding basic education for Washington public school students.
In 2012, in the McCleary case, the Supreme Court found the state in violation of its constitutional obligations. It told lawmakers and the governor that schools must be fully funded by the start of the 2017-18 school year.
Justices demanded regular progress reports. In January, concerned at the pace, they demanded lawmakers provide a “phase-in schedule” for meeting the deadline. Lawmakers did not turn in such a plan.
On Sept. 3, the court conducted a hearing to consider whether to find the Legislature in contempt and impose sanctions to compel compliance.
Attorneys for the state argued against sanctions, insisting lawmakers would take meaningful action in 2015.
Attorneys for parents and educators that brought the original school funding lawsuit urged the court to give lawmakers until the end of the year to act and then impose sanctions.