Friday, June 9, 2017
Budget in Crisis - The Latest on Funding Public Education in the state of Washington
In 2012 the Washington state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that the state constitution is being violated. K-12 public schools in Washington are underfunded in direct violation of the state’s constitution which states that “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” 2014 found the issue still far from being resolved and the justices held the state in contempt for failure to progress with legislation that will fully fund public schools. In 2015 the court added a $100,000 per day fine against the state. Instead of passing legislation that would resolve this issue in 2016, Senate Bill 6195 was passed. This bill set up a task force to make recommendations in the 2017 legislative session, after collecting data on school salaries and levies. This fine currently exceeds $55 million. Tom Ahearne, the lead attorney in the McCleary v. State of Washington case, spoke on Wednesday, May 3 at the Bellingham High School Performing Arts Center, and explained that the fine isn’t real money. The legislature will never actually pay this amount and it is more a symbol of the weight of the issue and the seriousness of the court’s decision. Ahearne laid out the possibilities we have in store for us in the near future. If the legislature fully funds K-12 public education then we all simply move on. If they fail to “amply” fund education then the courts will need to use a stronger sanction than the moderate contempt fine. The next sanctions could be closing schools or threatening to dock legislators’ salaries.
The court ruling states that the legislature must have fully implemented funding by September 1, 2018. This means the legislature has until the final adjournment of the 2017 legislative session, which ends on June 30, 2017. So, the current legislative session has three weeks to complete a budget that fully funds public K-12 education in the State of Washington. This is something they have been unable to do for nearly five years. Check back on June 30, 2017 for an update.
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