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Thursday, January 5, 2012

WA Supreme Court: State Has Failed to Meet Its "Paramount Duty" to Fund Education

Posted by on Thu, Jan 5, 2012 at 8:39 AM

I haven't had time to much more than skim the conclusion, but the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled against the state in McCleary v. State:

The State has failed to meet its duty under article IX, section 1 by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that falls short of the actual costs of the basic education program. The legislature recently enacted sweeping reforms to remedy the deficiencies in the funding system, and it is currently making progress toward phasing in those reforms. We defer to the legislature's chosen means of discharging its article IX, section 1 duty, but the judiciary will retain jurisdiction over the case to help ensure progress in the State's plan to fully implement education reforms by 2018.

The court has upheld the lower court ruling that the state has failed to adequately fund K-12 education, but did not order remedies. Instead, it will defer to the legislature through 2018, while retaining jurisdiction. In other words, the opinion is both dramatic and a cop-out at the same time.

Politically, I'm not sure what this means for the coming legislative session. Probably very little.


Comments (21) RSS

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or in a real nutshell we are finally going to have the revenue discussion we should have been having all along. The legislature will have no other route to meet the requirements of adequate funding. See Wyoming experience for an example. Excellent news for WA education system
Posted by cub on January 5, 2012 at 8:48 AM · Report this
Teslick 2
You're correct. 2018, while only 6 years away, is like 200 years in Olympia. The court punted this one for sure.
Posted by Teslick on January 5, 2012 at 8:51 AM · Report this
TheRain 3
It's also worth noting that this is effectively an 8-0 decision; there are two dissents in part, but they disagree with the decision of the court to retain jurisdiction over the case and not with the actual ruling that the state hasn't met their constitutional duty. The new guy wasn't part of the ruling.
Posted by TheRain on January 5, 2012 at 8:51 AM · Report this
Zebes 4
I was kind of excited and then I saw "2018" and went back to sleep.
Posted by Zebes on January 5, 2012 at 8:55 AM · Report this
scary tyler moore 5
"Its" paramount duty, not "it's". FFS, Goldy, this post is about education!
Posted by scary tyler moore on January 5, 2012 at 9:02 AM · Report this
Goldy 6
@5... the headline was up like that for about 3 minutes (though who knows about Slog's bizarre cache). Can't go back and edit the tweet. I haven't even had a cup of tea yet. Sheesh.
Posted by Goldy on January 5, 2012 at 9:08 AM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 8
This is a good ruling. They've clearly ruled that the state has shirked its duty. They're giving the legislature a few years to fix it on their own. If they immediately mandated a specific funding level, it would have thrown the state budget into complete chaos, and other things would have been slashed wholesale. That would have been madness of another sort. I wish they'd have only given the state legislature 2-3 years to fix this rather than 6, but I think this measured response was the right way to go.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on January 5, 2012 at 9:13 AM · Report this
Goldy 9
@7: Well then, since there isn't a single journalist in the state with a law degree, I suppose you suggest that the courts simply not be covered.
Posted by Goldy on January 5, 2012 at 9:22 AM · Report this
scary tyler moore 10
i see it's fixed. thank you, bubbeleh. go pee up a rope, @6.
Posted by scary tyler moore on January 5, 2012 at 9:23 AM · Report this
scary tyler moore 11
ex-squeeze me! i want @7 to pee up a rope, not goldy. unless, of course, that's your thing.
Posted by scary tyler moore on January 5, 2012 at 9:26 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 12
Just let every fucking city and town determine their own spending levels for education like many sane states do.

If Seattle wants to raise property taxes $500 a year for better schools, LET them.

If Shoreline wants to raise property taxes $1500 a year for great schools, LET them.

If Redmond wants to raise property taxes $2500 a year for exceptional schools, LET them.

If Yakima wants to cut property taxes $500 a year for worse schools, LET them.

The towns and cities should not even need to involve the state.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on January 5, 2012 at 9:32 AM · Report this
@8, as I read the summary bit they wrote at the beginning, the "2018" date is the end date of the 2009 reform legislation the Supes are saying would remedy the deficiencies. It's not that the court decided on a particular deadline, it's that they recognized the timing laid out by the legislation is part of what will make it effective.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 5, 2012 at 9:35 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 14
Like, back home I believe the way education funding went like this:

* State throws $x into each town based on # of students with various mandates
* Fed throws $x into the state/towns with various mandates
* Various grants and gifts come into the state/towns with various mandates
* Each town then is free to tax to their heart's content for what they want to fund above that

So you would have some towns and cities for whom education was a huge, huge priority, and it would be reflected in local property taxes. Then you had other towns with virtually no kids (older communities/rural communities) that pitched in just enough to buy seats at a neighboring school system or district and bussed over.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on January 5, 2012 at 9:44 AM · Report this
@12, the Supreme Court's last ruling on state ed funding--which they note at the beginning of this decision was their only other one--addressed exactly your point. They ruled the constitution limits the extent to which local school district levies can be used to supplant state K-12 money. What you propose may sound simple, but since the court has already ruled it unconstitutional it would require the constitution be amended. Good luck!
Posted by gloomy gus on January 5, 2012 at 9:50 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 16
@15 I'm confused, Gus. I'm not talking about supplanting the state money with local money. I'm talking about supplementing it, with the state still on the hook for their contribution. As in (all made up numbers)

* City of Whatever has an annual schools budget of $10,000,000 for 2012.
* The state's yearly contribution is supposed to be $5,000,000 for 2012.
* The Fed in various ways will pitch in $2,000,000 for 2012.
* Gifts, surplus, endowment, grants, whatever covers $1,000,000 for 2012.
* That leaves a $2,000,000 hole for the City of Whatever to cover, and they do.

If presumably that's (give or take) how it works or is supposed to, I'm talking about giving the City of Whatever the legal right if they want to, to raise an extra $5,000,000 a year if they want to for really bad-ass schools... without having to ask permission of the state or involve them.

I thought municipalities in WA require state legislature approval for this sort of thing? I've been sort of confused how it works on some of the fine details since my wife brought me home to WA as spoils of war back east.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on January 5, 2012 at 9:57 AM · Report this
@16, it's to do with basic ed (the topic of today's ruling) vs. supplemental. Here's a decent primer - happy reading:…
Posted by gloomy gus on January 5, 2012 at 10:17 AM · Report this
Goldy 18
@11, Actually, I'm confused about the whole physics of the exercise. Is it a wicking thing?
Posted by Goldy on January 5, 2012 at 10:17 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 19
@17, thanks, I'd seen that before, but I guess what I'm baffled on (which is probably a political thing) is why we vote on levies for school funding. It's asinine to vote on education spending. The way I recall back home, the cities/towns set a binanual schools budget based upon needs, what they expect from outside sources, then the local council/mayor/manager/whatever sets an appropriate annual tax millage rate and we're done.

This is some bullshit limiting property taxes isn't it?
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on January 5, 2012 at 10:25 AM · Report this
@19, there seem to be two basic differences between Washington and what you're describing. Schools here are not run by the municipal governments of the cities/towns they are in, but by local school districts, which are separate elected bodies. And property taxes here are assessed by counties, not cities/towns. I'm not saying it's right or even that I know why, but those facts do present some additional hurdles for your reform ideas.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 5, 2012 at 10:45 AM · Report this
Joe - In Washington State, School Districts are actually state agencies. They seem local because they're typically named after the nearest city (Seattle School District), but legally they could just as easily be called Washington State School District Number X. The arrangement you're advocating may be legal (or it may not), insofar as the state government can force local governments to do things, but conceptually it's a difficult sell because the taxing authorities of local governments within a given school district isn't unified; they would have a hard time coordinating a response to a budget shortfall like the the one in your hypothetical scenario. Also, however, there's the basic point -- according to our state constitution, educating all the kids in the state is the paramount duty of THE STATE. Not local governments, but state government. The state can meet that requirement by requiring local governments to meet certain levy requirements, but that kind of thing makes people cranky, both because it smacks of "big government" (an argument I think is bullshit, but it would be raised) and because the paramount function of state government in Washington is to suck tax revenues out of King and Pierce Counties and distribute that money among the rest of the state. Any proposal that would result in Clark County having to pay its own bills is a non-starter in our state legislature.
Posted by Judah on January 5, 2012 at 12:09 PM · Report this
Still waiting on that brilliant analysis of the underlying case in Goldmark v. McKenna you promised eons ago. Just saying.
Posted by TTT Graduate on January 5, 2012 at 12:41 PM · Report this

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