LOCAL NEWS

State Supreme Court weighs arguments over school funding

Oct 24, 2017, 9:58 AM | Updated: 12:50 pm
olympia, government employees...
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Has the Legislature done enough to meet the court-ordered mandate to fully fund basic education?

Senator: Republican ST3 report is ‘factually incorrect’

The state says yes. A group of parents, school districts, and other education professionals say no.

Lawyers for both sides are making their case Tuesday as the McCleary fight heads back to the state Supreme Court.

The fight that began back in 2007 when Stephanie McCleary — an employee at the Chimacum School District and a parent, along with other parents and education groups — sued the state for not doing enough to fully fund basic education.

After years of court battles, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2012 the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional paramount duty to amply fund education and ordered it to do so.

By the end of the 2015 Legislative session, lawmakers still hadn’t done enough, so the court began imposing fines of $100,000 a day. Those now total roughly $80 million.

Finally, after the latest legislative session, which included several special sessions, Governor Jay Inslee announced lawmakers had finally passed a budget that would do the trick.

“For the first time in decades, the budget will fully fund education,” he said.

Inslee was confident the budget, which includes $7.3 billion in state spending over four years to fix school funding, was enough to satisfy the court on the McCleary issue.

“We believe we have met the constitutional obligation to our children, but more importantly that we have met our moral and familial obligation to our children,” he said.

But attorney Tom Ahearne, who has led the McCleary lawsuit from the beginning, says the group he represents disagrees.

Ahearne says the math just doesn’t add up. The state, he says, claims to be adding billions of dollars

“You’re adding state dollars. But at the same time, you’re taking away local levy dollars. For example, if your employer says I’m going to give you a hundred-dollar raise, but I’m going to take thirty dollars away from you, that’s not a hundred-dollar raise. It’s a seventy-dollar raise. And then, also, the numbers the state is floating don’t account for the costs that they’ve added for school districts.”

Ahearne says, “The state has said that K-3 class sizes have to be seventeen students per classroom and day kindergarten now has to be expanded to full-day kindergarten. To have smaller class sizes and full-day kindergarten you need more classrooms. So school districts have to build more classrooms, but the state’s not funding the mandate of having those smaller class sizes or all-day kindergarten. Those are examples of costs that are being added but not being funded.”

Ahearne says the state’s funding package is also going to miss the court-imposed deadline to fully fund education by Sept. 1, 2018, with only $1.8 billion of new education funding expected to go to schools in the next two years and the rest coming in the following two years.

Several school districts also say the spending plan isn’t good enough, including Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. In fact, 207 of the state’s 295 school districts are members of the group Network for Excellence in Washington Schools — or NEWS — which is one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Chris Reykdal, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, tells The Seattle Times, the spending plan is progress but he isn’t shy about saying the state “came up short,” especially in special education funding.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson will argue, in court, that the state has met its constitutional requirement to fully fund education. Ferguson says, in court filings, the education funding package will leave every school district with more money than they would have had under the past law, and more money to pay educators.

But Ahearne says that’s not good enough.

“The Supreme Court’s been very clear. They have to amply fund actual cost of fully implementing the components of the state’s own basic education program. The state defines what the program is. For example, the all-day kindergarten, the K-3 class sizes of 17 kids. It’s the state Legislature who said that’s our program. And the Supreme Court has said … the Constitution requires you to be amply funding the actual cost of doing that.”

What that actual cost is depends on who you ask. Ahearne believes its more than $4 billion a year, while a former state superintendent of schools chief put the number at around $3.8 billion a year and some lawmakers had it at about $1.76 billion a year — or about $7 billion over four years. That’s similar to the $7.3 billion, four-year plan the Legislature just approved.

Tuesday’s arguments are expected to be the last step before the court decides whether the state met its obligation.

A decision is expected in a written ruling sometime after the hearing and there are a few possible outcomes.

The court could decide the Legislature failed to meet its requirements and order it to go back to work while continuing to find it in contempt of court and continue the $100,000 a day fines. It could also reduce the fines or lift them all together but retain jurisdiction and ask the state to come up with a better plan. It could also find the state has met its requirements and be done with the issue.

More from Hanna Scott

Local News

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Pierce County deputies investigating death of 11-year-old

Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies said they were investigating the death of an 11-year-old girl in Midland, WA.
1 day ago
Gee Ursula One Seattle...
KIRO Newsradio staff

Thousands of volunteers give back to the community for One Seattle Day

Thousands of volunteers gave back to the community on Saturday for One Seattle Day, including KIRO Newsradio's own Gee and Ursula Show.
1 day ago
(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)...
Frank Sumrall

Mayor’s search for permanent Police Chief looms over Seattle amid depleting law enforcement numbers

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell recently consulted with a hiring firm as the decision to choose the next Chief of Police heats up.
3 days ago
Seattle Sun...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Sunny skies, warm temperatures forecast for western Washington this weekend

Sunny skies and warm temperatures are forecast for much of western Washington, with some areas expected to reach temps in the 70s.
3 days ago
Student STEM...
Nicole Jennings

From athletes to mathletes: STEM Signing Day shines light on WA scholars

STEM Signing Day gives stellar science, technology, engineering, and math scholars a chance to shine in the same way as high school athletes.
3 days ago
Prison 900x506...
MyNorthwest Staff

Governor Inslee cancels parole determination for triple murderer

Governor Inslee has cancelled an order that granted parole to Timothy Pauley, who had been incarcerated for three counts of first degree murder in 1981.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
State Supreme Court weighs arguments over school funding