Supreme Court to hear McCleary progress
Justices want to hear how lawmakers plan to fund public education with “regular revenue sources.”
OLYMPIA — The legal battle on public school financing returns to the state Supreme Court on Wednesday as justices ponder dismissal of a contempt order and $100,000-a-day fine against the Legislature.
Justices plan to convene a hearing to learn what’s left for the state to do to ensure public schools are amply funded by a 2018 deadline set by the court in the McCleary case. The hearing is slated to start at 9 a.m. and last one hour.
Justices, in their July 14 order setting the hearing, said they want a progress report on what’s been accomplished and what remains to be done. They also want estimates of the price tag for paying teachers a competitive salary and having enough staff and classrooms to provide for all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes through third grade.
And the court wants the state’s lawyers to be prepared to answer questions on how lawmakers intend to meet these financial obligations with “dependable and regular revenue sources.”
“What remains to be done to achieve compliance is undeniably huge, but it is not undefinable,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the order. “The State can certainly set out for the court and the people of Washington the detailed steps it must take to accomplish its goals by the end of the next legislative session.”
Attorneys for the families who brought the suit will get equal time to respond.
In its brief in advance of the hearing, the attorney for the Legislature outlined the remaining tasks but did not say how that would be paid for.
“This is a decision for the 2017 Legislature and cannot be answered at this time,” wrote Senior Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier.
Another question justices may bring up is when exactly is the deadline. Stolier contends it is Sept. 1, 2018, while the plaintiffs’ lawyer asserts that the court has said everything must be in place by the 2017-18 school year.
“The State’s request for an additional year of delay is understandable given the huge task that its longstanding procrastination has punted to the 2017 Legislature,” attorney Thomas Ahearne wrote in his brief for this hearing.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said he’ll be in the courtroom Wednesday.
“I am going there to listen firsthand to what they tell the justices they did do last session,” Dorn said, noting in his opinion lawmakers failed to move the ball.
His office filed a friend-of-the-court brief for the hearing. In it he urged justices to not dismiss the contempt order. And it says if lawmakers don’t address the outstanding issues, including compensation, in 2017, the court should impose tougher sanctions.
A lawsuit filed in 2007 by parents and educators led to the 2012 McCleary ruling by the Supreme Court that state funding for education is not adequate, equitable or ample. The court gave lawmakers until 2018 to fix the problems and demanded yearly progress reports from them.
In 2014, the court held the state in contempt for failing to submit a complete plan for meeting the 2018 deadline. In August 2015, with no plan submitted, the court added the $100,000-a-day sanction.
In its brief, Stolier argues the contempt order should be dismissed and sanction lifted because the Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that provides the detailed blueprint desired by the court.
Ahearne counters that nothing has changed and the court should be prepared to enforce more stringent sanctions if the 2017 Legislature fails to complete all the required tasks.