Washington Supreme Orders Legislature to Develop a “Concrete Plan” for “Ample” Education Funding


After reviewing reports filed by state legislators and the plaintiffs in McCleary v. State, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order last month requiring the legislature to develop a more concrete plan for how it will provide ample funds for basic education in compliance with its 2012 decision in the school funding lawsuit. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Barbara Madsen insisted that the legislature submit a report at the conclusion of the 2013 session that outlines reforms to all areas of K-12 education, including transportation, classroom supplies, full-time kindergarten, and class size.

In January 2012, the court had found that the state’s current aid system did not provide adequate funding for public education. It ordered the legislature to submit yearly reports to document its steps towards meeting the 2018 compliance deadline. The first of these reports, submitted last September, claimed that although progress was slow, “it represented a good-faith legislative effort.” Lawyers for the plaintiffs charged the legislature with essentially stalling on the reforms because “it’s not a convenient time right now.”

Calling the legislature’s report “insufficient,” the court’s decision issued late last month stated:

Steady progress requires forward movement. Slowing the pace of funding cuts is necessary, but it does not equate to forward progress; constitutional compliance will never be achieved by making modest funding restorations to spending cuts.

It continues to be the court’s intention to foster cooperation and defer to the legislator’s chosen plan to achieve constitutional compliance…But there must in fact be a plan. Each day there is a delay risks another school year in which Washington children are denied the constitutionally adequate education that is the State’s paramount duty to provide.

In demanding a detailed phase-in plan, Justice Madsen explained that given the enormity of the task, 2018 is “only a moment away. ” Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn lauded the order, describing the court’s involvement in the process as “crucial.” Governor Chris Gregoire called it “another wake-up call” of how serious the court is taking the issue of K-12 funding.

January 17, 2013

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