State Supreme Court Issues Pointless Ruling

The Washington State Supreme Court has upheld the ruling by a King County judge that the state is failing to fulfill its constitutional duty to provide funding for public schools.

Here is the Court's opinion.

Then the Court threw up their hands and admitted that there was nothing they could do about it. They can't - or won't - force the legislature to do anything and they have given the legislature six years to mend their ways. Can you imagine? "This Court finds that you have been mal-nourishing these children in your charge and gives you just six years to start feeding them properly." And if they don't? Then I guess the Court will bring them in and give them another six years to comply.

Here is the story in the Seattle Times by Brian Rosenthal.

Here is the story in Publicola.


Patrick said…
Like the old joke about unarmed British police: "Stop, or I shall yell Stop again!"
Dorothy Neville said…
Yeah, why is anyone thrilled at this? Back when we were campaigning against ed-deform/ie the Supplemental Levy, the opposing argument always brought up McCleary. I was always, huh? Seems like a total non sequitur.
dan dempsey said…
Charlie says Pointless .... Let me add and really time consuming...

Thomas Ahearne was working on the NEWS action back in 2006. In 2009 there was a 7-week trial, which concluded on October 21, 2009. On February 4, 2010 the favorable decision by Judge John Erlick. The State appealed and there was a one day hearing before the Supremes on June 28, 2011.

Now after six-months of thinking, on Jan 5, 2012 comes this decision.

So now we get to wait another six years for the legislature to put an end to violations of the state constitution.

What a legal system and what an education system.


Fourth Grade MSP Math pass rates in Seattle....

American Indian 30.60% :: Black 31.80%
:: Low Income 40.70% :: Hispanic 43.80%
:: Asian/ Pacific Islander 68.70%

Non Low Income pass rate = 81.60%

It is not just the money that prevents the fulfillment of article IX.

Where is that education that maximizes the opportunity for each child to realize their full potential?

It sure was never going to come from the $500,000 four ... Will the current Board be any better?

Check back in a few years.
Anonymous said…
Yes, well you know it's time to pull your bootstraps and you too can be another Henry Ford... yada, yada, yada. In the meantime, what are educational smarties fixated on? Well for the PTA: charter school legislation, for UW Ed school: TFA, for SSD: new super search and finding places for all the kids regardless of learning needs (the enrollment data is very englightening). For the State Supreme court, the Governor, the legistors: it's all about elections and re-elections and what can those lovely lobbyist- politico whisperers do for me. Blame the poor economy and we can all stop trying.

So the takeaway, it's up to YOU to do what you can for your kids. If you have to step over folks to get there, do it. If you have to keep out folks to get there, do it. Living through this, you can just be thankful your kids' NSAP school is Whitman and not Aki or Ballard and not RBHS. Don't look to the grown ups for checks and balances.

No wonder the NYT's article on how harder it is for Americans to rise from lower rungs has hit nerves.

-Finding my Horatio Alger in Las Vegas, a la Hunter Thompson.
"lovely lobbyist- politico
- hilarious.

One takeaway for me is that while big money/big charters/big names will come to Olympia preaching the gospel of charters, this particular ruling is going to be one more issue for them to surmount to get charter legislation passed.


Well, if you are not fully-funding the already existing schools, what will the Legislature look like endowing money for charters? Spread the not-legal-size pot of money even thinner?

What's the new mantra for schoolchildren to say to the legislators, "Please sir, I want some more."

And the legislator says, "Sorry kid, we had to give the charter kids some."

Not so appealing.
Anonymous said…
On a positive note, the ruling will probably prevent further cuts for K-12.
Anonymous said…
Ahh, you are thinking Dickenesian. Right direction, but dress up a kid like mine who's a bit dusky and super CUTE (mom's bias) , and put her in front of some abandoned graffiti ridden house and you have got a winning poster child for charter legislation. Hello politico PR!

Finding Hoaratio in LV
Anonymous said…
Here is what NEWS sent out at 4:25 PM

The Washington State Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that the State of Washington is violating its constitutional paramount duty to amply fund the education of all K-12 students.

NEWS, together with the McCleary and Venema families on whose behalf the lawsuit was filed, declared the ruling an historic and monumental victory for public school students and citizens of Washington.

As NEWS lead attorney Tom Ahearne summarized: "The highest Court in our State has clearly told our Legislature, once and for all, that the State is violating its Constitutional duty to the people of Washington - and has declared that the Court will retain jurisdiction to enforce its ruling rather than sit on the sidelines and 'hope' that the Legislature someday complies."

The Supreme Court upheld a 2010 decision by King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick, declaring that the State must amply fund education first before any other State programs or operations. In addition, the Supreme Court prohibited the Legislature from eliminating or cutting funding for reasons of unrelated to educational policy - in other words, financial expediency cannot be used as an excuse to further cut education. The ruling also rejected the State's contention that federal funds and local levies should be counted toward meeting the State's constitutional mandate.

"The Supreme Court has unequivocally told the Legislature that our State Constitution leaves it no choice but to fully and amply fund public education," Ahearne said. "The only question now is whether our legislators will voluntarily obey the oath they took to our Constitution now, or be forced to do so by the courts later."
-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Well 6 years is a long, long time to hold my breath. Certainly too late for my kids. 6 years maybe long enough for the state economy to recover, may be long enough for judicial and political faces to change and new folks can face the music then. Meanwhile, it would be better for state legislators to look at our many, many school districts and look for ways to streamline operations there, look to where we are spending our money-i.e. common core state standards and prioritize accordingly.

Should Charter legislation be a priority issue right now for lesgislatures? I think not. It shouldn't be for our PTSA either. (if you want to go viral politically: chew on class size, school funding, early childhood education, curriculm and instruction, teacher training and support, etc. These things still need fixing and charter isn't going to be the panacea.)

Finding Horation in LV
Blackstone said…
This is a historic ruling that will have ramifications starting today and for years to come.

In a historic, and very rare move, the Court has imposed a deadline on another branch of government to implement necessary reforms. Amazingly (when else has this happened?) the Court has retained jurisdiction to make sure the reforms are carried out.

@Dorothy, this case is far from a non sequitur. It is most likely one of the top five decisions by the Washington State Supreme Court for the impact that it will have on the daily lives of the citizens of this state.

Recognize too, the decision was unanimous (the lone dissent concerned Court retaining jurisdiction...not in the result).

Everyone should take the time to read the decision and see what it contains and what it requires.

Decisions like these do not instantly compel change. Even Brown v. Board did not compel instant change. (Recall its requirement that desegregation take place with "all deliberate speed").

Pointless and time consuming? Hardly.

Arguing about policy language that will probably be "enforced" (or withdrawn, changed or rewritten) only when a school board feels like enforcing it, that's probably more pointless and time consuming.

This case will change the funding formulas used by the state (e.g. no longer will they be able to count federal dollars when making funding decisions) it will require funding for advanced learners (advanced learning is part of "basic education) and, it will most likely result in complete shake up of the school levy system.

If the legislature fails to make the incredible changes required by the Court, the Court will make changes for them. That is, most definitely, something that we don't want.
Anonymous said…
Blackstone, yes that might happen. Our state justices are elected, not appointed. Our legislators and governor are elected. In Brown vs. Board of Ed ruling along with 1964 Civil Rights legislation, that took a willing Congress, President, the Supreme Court, and a nervous, but mostly willing (to counter the unwilling) country to make desegregation and application of voting rights law happen. That work is still not complete.

Findng Horatio in LV
Dorothy Neville said…
Blackstone, it was a non sequitur to our situation. The district wanted voters to pass a supplemental levy and promised to spend the money on new initiatives that would increase the bureaucracy and ultimately hurt classroom funding even further. The pro-levy talking points were all about McCleary and nothing about the unproven (in fact, disproven in many districts) ed-reform agenda to be funded by the levy.
seattle citizen said…
Melissa writes,
"this particular ruling is going to be one more issue for them to surmount to get charter legislation passed...if you are not fully-funding the already existing schools, what will the Legislature look like endowing money for charters? Spread the not-legal-size pot of money even thinner?"

Ah, but Big Ed Reform charters already market themselves as "efficient." That is the mantra of many charter operators: We can do things cheaper. It's evident in the union-busting, in the drive to make the educator labor force less expensive by make it expendable after two years (TFA), it's evident in the outsourcing of buildings to private operators....

Inherently, the entire Big Ed movement is all about "the free market" which will somehow do things better....and cheaper.

A fallacy, of course, but look for this sort of argument to be made as our legislature tries to meet its responsibily on a limited budget: "These charters will cost less but provide the level of service demanded by the court," we'll hear, accompanied by the usual charts, graphs, and 8x10 glossies with the circles and the arrows and the writing on the back...

WV says exuratab. I have no idea what it means, but it must mean SOMEthing?
Blackstone said…
@Dorothy, I'm not sure about the specifics of the levy arguments.

I would say that the McCleary Court discusses levy funding and that using levy's to fund "basic education" needs runs afoul of the Constitutional mandate.

I'll need to read the decision more closely, but I believe one of the ramifications will be increased state funding so that school districts will not be so beholden to local voters.

In Seattle our families are paying for full day kindergarten. The legislature has said that voluntary full day kindergarden falls within the ambit of "basic education." The Court is saying that, since the legislature declared it to be "basic education" it must be funded by the state.

On the textbook issue (which I know some of you are very concerned about) the Court noted that the trial court evidence of the underfunding was "compelling."

On utilities, the evidence at trial was that the state funded $115 per student while the actual costs were $252.

On the math front (another area dear to many of you) there was evidence that the under state funding levels only five percent of K-5 students could obtain an up-to-date math curriculum from the state menu.

The Court described "massive underfunding" of NERCS during the 2007-2008 school year. "This meant that approximately 46 school districts...had no money for textbooks or technology after paying for utilities and insurance."

Evidence supported a finding that transportion was underfunded between $93 and $114 million PER YEAR.

Salaries of teachers and administrators are underfunded by the state.

The best part? The state has defined basic education. The Court didn't (and couldn't) do this. But after defining it, they have failed to adequately fund it.

Finally, the Court is not going to let the state off the hook. In the section on the remedy, the Court noted, "What we have learned from this experience (dealing with the Seattle School District case of many years ago) is that this court cannot stand on the sidelines and hope the State meets its constitutional mandate to amply fund education. ... We will not abdicate our judicial role."

The Court rejected the trial court's order requiring another study by acknowledging that the State has already studied and made determinations of what constitutes basic education.

"It wold be a mistake to disregard that progress now and require the state to return to the drawing board."

The Court rejected the argument that they should "do no more than await the legislature's role in reforming education. ... Recent cuts to K-12 funding confirm that too much deference may set the state for another major lawsuit challenging the legislature's failure to adhere to its own implementation schedule."

"This court cannot idly stand by as the legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform."

Charlie suggested that the Court was not offering a remedy. The Court, however, noted that it is its responsibility to hold the state accountable to meets its constitutional duty. They then directed the parties to provide further briefing to the court addressing the preferred method for retaining jurisdiction.

In closing, the Court noted, "This court intends to remain vigilant in fulfilling the State's constitutional responsibility..."

It's an awesome decision. (Unless you want to fund higher education, the court systems, state parks, the judiciary or you don't want higher taxes).
dan dempsey said…

Sure hope you are correct. A similar ruling in NY State had a huge impact. Ahearne modeled this NEWS legal action on the NY State victory. Time will tell
Anonymous said…
Blackstone - As someone who has spent over 90% of his 50+ years of life in the bottom quintiles, you're talking like the Legal Eagle Queen Anne crowd, who can afford this white collar nonsense, that white collar nonsense, and any other nonsense from the professional classes.

Someday people will strive to excel at what they do, and those who will be most exalted for what they do will be those who best juggle the resources of the community to get the most return on investment for the community - so that the community has reliable transportation, has reliable power, has reliable water and sewage, has reliable retraining, has reliable retirement, has reliable justice systems for the community & NOT justice for only the wealthy,...has reliable education !!

We need skills in operations research, engineering, finance, accounting, chemistry, physics, materials science, biology,statistics ... anthropology, comparative religion, history,sociology, ... and we have a society focused on producing raiders, wreckers or ponderous bureaucrats who can't run hot dog stands, but, who dream of writing that great containment stratergery article and living like George Kennan forever.

6 years for the courts to figure out that kids are getting ripped off, everyday! Wow!

And that fixes, what? When?

'Please, sir, I want some more.'

Maybe we could get a law passed requiring that stuff which won't matter must be printed on Charmin?

Other than the lawyers, which kids benefited?

Blackstone said…

If you read the opinion you will see that the Court recognized that in the past simply declaring that the State had failed to live up to its Constitutional mandate and allowing the State to police itself...did not work. It took too long.

If you read the opinion you will see that the State has already defined, quite broadly, what "basic education" consists of. The State has even indicated how much it would cost to adequately fund "basic education." The Court recognized that simply ordering the State to do that immediately would be unrealistic. (I would bet they would have to cut virtually everything but K-12 education).

The Court is giving the State six years to comply with the ruling. However, they Court will continue to monitor the State during the intervening years to insure that they are moving toward compliance. I can't imagine under this scenario that K-12 will be seeing any more cuts.

Regarding which children "won." Did the kids in school TODAY win? I suppose the answer would be no. But if it means no further cuts then they would be "winning" something next year. As the funding increases over the intervening years they would be "winning" even more.

ultimately, this ruling will require this state to put K-12 education front and center in funding decisions. This will, I believe, result in an education system that benefits all the citizens of this state.
dan dempsey said…
Dear Blackstone,

Yes I am pleased with the decision and Bravo Thomas Ahearne ..... but ....

My problem is with "ample education" and with the "six years".

Currently WA state is failing to adequately fund a 180 day school year.

The EOCD average school year is 195 days and with longer days than in WA state.

Nearly every industrialized nation has more planning time available to teachers than in WA State.

So what is an ample education? Does it need to be internationally competitive? Is there any interest in providing each student the opportunity to maximize their talents? SPS looks more like the Central Admin wants one size fits all sausage.

Cleveland STEM was originally set up with a summer school component, which never happened due to lack of funding.

The USA and WA state have very large achievement gaps .... it is popular to blame these on Poverty USA ... Seattle's 4th grade MSP math pass rates for Low Income kids = 40% for non-low income kids = 80% ....

Easier to blame poverty (which is a more difficult fix) than blame an easier to fix 180 day school year and lousy instructional materials and practices.

The State is NOT funding k-12 education fully but the Seattle public schools leadership is not intelligently making decisions to serve its students.

That WAC 181-79A-231 violation approved by six directors ... gives a real indication of how far off the mark ... six directors chose to be.

The professional educator standards board encourages in all cases the hiring of fully certificated individuals and understands that districts will employ individuals with conditional certificates only after careful review of all other options.

Note the OECD survey of where teachers with 15 years experience and a masters degree rank relative to the average of all such persons in other occupations in their nation finds the USA teacher earning around 60%, which places USA teachers in poor postion as top performing countries are paying their teachers 80 to 100%.

On the employment front look here=>
Majors Matter in Job Prospects for Recent College Graduates

Unemployment for recent college graduates is 8.9 percent, compared with 22.9 percent of job-seekers with just a high school education and 31.5 percent among high school dropouts.

Education (5.4 percent) has very low unemployment.

The education field has earnings that are low and only improve marginally with experience and graduate education.

Sorry for the ramble ... but there is a lot that needs fixing .... and NOT much fixing is happening.
Anonymous said…
How much will it cost for the state to fully fund "basic ed"? $6 billion a year more to fill in the gap? Will doing so assure faireness that ALL children get the quality basic education they deserve? Take a look at where Washington stands among the 50 states. Take a look at the National Report Card-

We get an F for fiscal ability (another word WA can raise a lot more money to support basic ed). We get a C grade for funding distribution, just above Mississippi (school districts with higher poverty get less. It is not a huge difference- about $200 per student).

We rank 32 out of 50 for funding fairness (state and local funding revenues adjusted to national average poverty rate of 16%. Wyoming rank 1st for fairness.)

For coverage which looks at median household income of kids attending public vs. private schools. Washington comes in at 27 out of 50 (median income of public school kids $75,138 and pvt school kids $127,192. (Wyoming rank 1 for coverage and no big surprise- DC came in last with avg. median household income of pvt school kids @ $185,933 to median household income of public school kids @ $52,106.)

Also while NY spends over $17,00 per pupil each year, it ranks 40th in graduation rates, 34th in percentage of adults with high school diplomas or GED. So while spending per pupil matters, how and where you spend matter too.

It isn't just about getting adequate funding, but on whose backs, and to whose benefits. Will it be a burden shared equitably by Washington citizens (and corporations since they are now citizens too) to benefit all CHILDREN? Voters are fickle, nervous, and want their money worth. Are they getting their worth even with the underfunding now? So if you are going to talk cuts to other programs and more importantly TAXES, take a reality check.

I voted for the income tax and various bonds and levies, but have to ask: are we spending what we have wisely now? These questions matter. So forgive me for being:
- skeptical
dan dempsey said…
Dear skeptical,

Thanks for the Stats on Wyoming.

The two states that Ahearne modeled the full funding legal action upon were NY State and Wyoming.

He knew he would likely win as the WA State constitution was more favorable than either the NY State or Wyoming constitution.

The Seattle "Discovering Math" legal appeal by Keith Scully which won in Superior Court was modeled on similar lines. That victory was overturned in appeals court even though the scores dropped exactly as outlined by Porter, Mass, and McLaren. They decided it would be too expensive to appeal to the WA Supreme Court.

You are correct to be skeptical given the WA State and Seattle track records.
Anonymous said…
Sorry, my citations got cut off. For State Report Card, go to the website below and download REPORT.

For NY figures, it is at Campaign for Fiscal Equity website:
Anonymous said…
That was me w/ the citations.

Charlie Mas said…
Blackstone, thank you for your erudite explanation of the historic import of this decision. I'm sure that it will shake the legal world.

Back on this planet, however, it doesn't mean diddly.

The legislature can ignore it. They can just go ahead and do whatever they were going to do anyway. And what if they do? What will the Court do? Nothing. Sure the Court will closely monitor the situation, but the Court has no enforcement ability.

Are you going to tell me that the Court can - and would - have legislators arrested and jailed for failing to meet the requirements of the decision? I don't think so.

Are you going to tell me that the Court can - and would - write checks to school districts from the state budget if the legislature fails to apportion the funding? I don't think so.

C'mon, lawyers are supposed to think about contingencies. Think about this one: what if the state legislature completely ignores the decision. Then what? Well, then nothing.

You can win in Court, but unless you can show up with the cops and take someone to jail or show up with the Sheriff and seize property, you are relying on the voluntary compliance of the loser.

Let's remember that the Washington Supreme Court has granted the legislature broad authority. What is an emergency? Whatever the legislature says is an emergency. What is "Basic Education"? Whatever the legislature says is basic education. So all the legislature has to do is re-define basic education to mean teaching kids to read, write and reckon from grade one to grade eight - excluding kindergarten entirely, excluding all other subjects, excluding transportation, excluding nutrition, excluding high school, excluding class size requirements, excluding anything else in the world that they want to exclude. And boom! The legislature can easily meet their constitutional responsibility. All they have to do is lower the bar to whatever standard they want to meet.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dan dempsey said…

I watched Ahearne on TV in a 60 minute interview (back in 2007) here is what I remember about this.

A similar decision in NY State played out as follows: Judge determined in consultation with both sides what additional funding was needed. (and it was a significant increase.... say 30%).

Judge then ordered the state legislature to raise the money. This raising of funds happened relatively quickly.... not over six years.

My guess it that in NY State .... Judges take the law and education more seriously than in WA State and that legislators realize that Judges do not treat defiance of an order to comply as trivial.

I would not underestimate Mr. Ahearne's ongoing input on the funding situation until it is resolved. I think the situation will play out somewhat differently than what you describe.

Like you I will believe it when I see it.

Given the amount of ignoring of laws and policies that take place in the SPS (and its not just regular PERC violations) .... the Board and Superintendent are hardly good models of legal compliance for legislators to emulate.
-- Dan Dempsey
About Done said…
Wow, Mas, what a snotty reply. Blackstone's tone has remained civil and serious, and deserves basic respect. This place is really starting to turn me off.
Charlie Mas said…
About Done, you're right. I agree completely. I'm not a nice man. I am filled with self-loathing every time I write something like that. And that's more often than you know.

I write much nastier, and much more nasty comments than I publish.

Usually I either fix them or decide against them before clicking on the "Publish Your Comment" button. I probably should have re-written that last comment without the sneering tone. Maybe I was just lazy today. I'll try to do better in future.

You're right. I was wrong. I apologize to you, to the other readers, and to Blackstone, who has been nothing but helpful and did not deserve my venom.
Lori said…
Here's an interesting story from The Columbian in Clark County about the Court decision:

Some notable quotes:
"As part of its decision, the court said it would “retain jurisdiction over the case” to help the state implement the reforms.

“That’s feel-good language,” said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield. “The court can’t force the hand of the Legislature to write a check.”

And if you live in Seattle, you might want to follow the proposed changes to property taxes:
"A bipartisan plan to reform property tax levies could get a second look in the wake of the court decision.

Zarelli said he has proposed to increase the state property tax levy while reducing the levy authority at the local level. Levies would be collected uniformly across the state, and about two-thirds of taxpayers would end up paying less under his plan, compared with the mix of state and local school property taxes currently levied for schools. It would mean that some property-rich districts pay more while getting less, but that could be worked out, he said.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue, the head of the Ways and Means committee, has floated a similar proposal and the two legislators have been in talks, Zarelli said.

As I suspected, the court ruling will give legislators "cover" to finally raise or change tax collection. Unfortunately, the parts of the state that routinely vote down taxes are once again looking to King County to pay more while they continue to pay less.

WV says we should be "tribled" by this development.
dan dempsey said…
So how has the legislature's plan begun in 2009 to fully fund education by 2018 been going?

Data from OSPI report cards on State Funding per Student under revenue sources ==>
Total revenues per student from STATE:
2009-2010 = $6400 : 66%
2008-2009 = $6648 : 67%
2007-2008 = $6632 : 71%
2006-2007 = $6137 : 70%

I do not have 2010-2011 data, so I really don't know how its going.... but given the great money grab away from the Patti Murray financial bailout for each local district by WA State back in December of 2010.... my guess is not well.

The legislature came up with the 2009 plan as a preemptive response to McCleary v. State.... Now let's see if Ahearne can make something happen.
Anonymous said…
Lori, you wrote

"As I suspected, the court ruling will give legislators "cover" to finally raise or change tax collection. Unfortunately, the parts of the state that routinely vote down taxes are once again looking to King
County to pay more while they continue to pay less."

I agree. The assembly would roll the cost onto King and wealthier western counties. It'll be interesting to see how how our local reps handle this. People here are getting hit by increasing rates left and right from utilities, tolls, car tabs, sales and property taxes and their tolerance is wearing thin even for many who have voted to support levies and bonds in the past.

We can not always be the golden goose. All the players here face an election.

dan dempsey said…
Voter wrote:

We can not always be the golden goose. All the players here face an election.

The Supreme court justices are also elected.... thus the most expeditious way of punting was devised by them. No wonder it took 6 months to come up with a 77 page decision.
Anonymous said…
In Texas, a while back, there was a similar ruling. In Texas, the legislature could not implement a state income tax or a state property tax. Unbelievably, state property taxes are unconstitutional in Texas. The courts found that school districts were inequitably funded, and that some districts had NO way to pay for their education since they had low propertery value. The court directed the legislature to come up with a tax plan and eventually, after many itterations, came up with a Robin Hood plan... which only taxes wealthy school districts. The tax goes to the property poor counties to pay for their education system.

It isn't impossible for something similar to happen in Washington.

Anonymous said…
Reader, Washington state has been doing that with levy equalization. There was a spirited discussion of this in an earlier thread.

another reader
dan dempsey said…
Peter Callaghan at the Tacoma News Tribune wrote on Jan 12 /// HERE

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