Supreme Court Rules That Legislative Fines Will Continue

This morning, in an 8-1 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the $100,000 per day fines against the Washington State Legislature over the Legislature's inability to get public schools fully-funded will continue.

Basics of the ruling:

- the fines continue
- the Legislature must open an account and put the fine money into it
- the Legislature must have a plan - with funding and implementation - by the end of the 2017 Legislative session
- the Court is leveling no other sanctions against the Legislature

From the ruling in the section labeled Background:
Overall, the court observed, the State's report showed that it knew what progress looked like and had taken some steps forward, but could not "realistically claim to have made significant progress when its own analysis shows it is not on target to implement ESHB 2261 and SHB 2776.  Reiterating that the State had to show through immediate and concrete action that it was achieving real and measurable progress, not simply making promises, the court directed the State to submit by April 30, 2014, "a complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-2018 school year," which addresses "each of the areas of K-12 education identified in ESHB 2261, as well as the implementation plan called for by SHB 2776 and must include a phase-in schedule for fully funding each of the components of basic education."
They go on to talk about assigning the fine onto the Legislature in September 2014.  They state that the Legislature HAD made progress in all-day kindergarten,MSOCs and transportation but that there was "not a complete plan for full state funding of basic education by 2018."  They also note that the issue of personnel costs was not addressed by the Legislature.

They then review the establishment of the "Education Funding Task Force."

Under "The State's Compliance," they say that the State cannot just say what they "expect" to achieve but "set forth in complete detail how it will achieve its identified goals" including "how it will fully pay for basic education through regular and dependable revenue sources.." (the words in bold were in italics but I used bold)

On page 9, the court explains how the Joint Task Force on Education Funding that was established in 2012 had this job as well and that the Legislature has been working on this a long time.
The State has thus known all along what a plan on how to constitutionally achieve full state funding of basic education looks like; it has simply not provided a complete plan, nor has it acted on any of the recommendations suggested through the years concerning funding sources and compensation.
In its latest report, the State continues to provide a promise - "we'll get there next year" - rather than a concrete plan for how it will meet its paramount duty.  It forestalls taking action while awaiting the recommendations of its latest task force.  
 With 2016 came further "grappling" but essentially a return to 2012, with the commissioning of another study to come up with recommended options, a host of which were available to the legislature in the 2012 reports but were neither acted on nor committed to by plan.  While the State insists in its latest reporter that it is on schedule to comply with the 2018 deadline, it does not demonstrate how.
 A pledge, regardless of good intentions, is still not a plan for achieving full constitutional compliance. 
The court goes on to say that they are not "judging" if the State is going to spend enough money on "the components of basic education."  Their ruling is based on the State not getting the work done in a complete and timely manner. 

About the sanctions, the court says that the State has failed "to comply with the sanction order itself." The Court sounds a little testy when they say that while the State says they have the reserve funds for the fines and that the OFM is "computing the accumulated amount on a daily basis."
But keeping an accounting of the sanctions as they accumulate does not comply with the court's order to pay the sanction daily into an established account for the benefit of basic education.  
They also clear up the issue of when this is all to be done but seemingly have caught the Legislature in a trap of its own making:

Any program for full state funding of basic education must therefore be fully implemented not later than September 1, 2018.  

But in E2SSB 6195, the legislature committed itself to enacting a fully complying program by the end of the 2017 session.  This court has never purported to alter the compliance deadline, 
We conclude, based on the relevant legislation, that the State has until September 1, 2018, to fully implement its program of basic education, and that the remaining details of that program, including funding sources and the necessary appropriations for the 2017-2019 biennium, are to be in place by final adjournment of the 2017 legislative session.
Tick tock.

Update - from Washington's Paramount Duty:
Statement from Washington’s Paramount Duty’s pro bono attorneys: Summer Stinson and Kathryn Russell Selk. They filed the two amicus curiae briefs with the Supreme Court in the McCleary case:
The Supreme Court’s ruling is strong and clear: the State is still in contempt and they are still being fined. We agree with the Supreme Court in rejecting the State’s claim that their “plan to make a plan” was enough to lift the contempt order and the sanctions. The Legislature has said what it wants to achieve but has not explained how it will actually do the hard work to pay for it within the short time left. The Supreme Court is fulfilling its constitutional duty by keeping the pressure on the Legislature to satisfy its duties under our constitution to more than fully fund basic education by the end of the 2017 legislative session.   

The decision supports our mission and we will be working with parents and community members across the state to insist the Legislature do what the Supreme Court has ordered and specifically tell us how it will fully pay for basic education through regular and dependable revenue sources.  We have to elect people who will do that work.


Anonymous said…
So NOW an account must be opened and money put in it.

Wonder what has been happening previously.

-- Dan Dempsey

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