Five former Washington governors are asking the state Supreme Court to give legislators another chance to reach a deal on school funding before considering whether to slap them with a contempt citation.
In June, the high court ordered the state to appear before justices Sept. 3 and explain why lawmakers shouldn’t be found in contempt for failing to comply with the court’s landmark 2012 McCleary decision.
The former governors — Dan Evans, John Spellman, Mike Lowry, Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire — argue that levying any contempt charges and sanctions now could derail the chances for reaching an agreement on education funding when the Legislature takes up a new two-year budget in the upcoming session.
The governors advise postponing the Sept. 3 hearing until after the next legislative session to give lawmakers the best chance to reach a solution not dictated by the court.
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“Without that crucial legitimacy and compromise, long-term funding is far from guaranteed and the State could end up right back where it started,” according to the governors’ brief, which was cowritten by Rob McKenna, former state attorney general and candidate for governor.
The brief was one of several filed Monday in the case, which stems from the court’s decision to side with a large group of school districts, parents and teachers who contended the Legislature is violating the state’s constitution by failing to provide ample funding for public education.
The court gave lawmakers until the 2017-2018 school year to come up with enough money to meet the Legislature’s own definition of what it means to provide a basic education for the state’s 1 million schoolchildren.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Thomas Ahearne, has long argued that the court must take stronger actions to ensure the Legislature complies.
“The tragic fact remains that the defendant State’s continuing delay in this case effectively abandons students whose constitutional right to an amply funded K-12 education is being violated by the State year after year after year,” Ahearne said in an email Monday.
Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction, also filed a brief arguing that if the Legislature doesn’t make substantial progress in the next session, the court should consider forbidding lawmakers from spending money on anything other than education until it fulfills the court’s order.
Three nonprofit organizations — Columbia Legal Services, the Children’s Alliance and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance — asked the court to consider that children may suffer if the Legislature has to cut from nonacademic programs serving low-income families to satisfy the ruling on school funding.
And a brief filed by the Washington State Budget and Policy Center argued that the state needs new revenue to meet all its obligations.