Seattle Times reporters will provide coverage of the state Supreme Court hearing about the McCleary school-funding case, which started this morning.

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The hearing has concluded. Here is a recap of what happened.


The basics:

  • The state Supreme Court has ordered the state to appear in court in the long-running McCleary school-funding case. Watch a live video stream of the hearing here.
  • The justices have a series of questions they want the state to to answer before they decide whether to lift the $100,000-a-day fine, maintain it or add additional sanctions for not providing a sufficient plan to fully fund basic education, as required under the state constitution.
  • No decision is expected during Wednesday’s hearing, but many will be watching to try to determine what direction the court is leaning.
  • In 2012, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to raise education spending enough to fulfill its constitutional duty of providing an ample education for Washington’s schoolchildren.

Update, 10:56 a.m.

Read our story about the hearing:

State Supreme Court questions how to compel state to fulfill McCleary school-funding ruling


Update, 10:18 a.m.

Alan Copsey, deputy solicitor general for the state, closes with statement that the Legislature has made progress in this case: “If I’m running a marathon , and I’m 15 miles into that marathon, you can’t say I’ve done nothing yet.”


Update, 10:10 a.m.

Copsey is back and is asked about the 2018 deadline. The state says Sept. 1, 2018, is the date for full implementation. The plaintiffs say the state’s deadline is not correct and refers to the 2018-19 school year, when it should refer to the year before. The 2017-18 school year is after the 2017 Legislative session, funded by the state’s 2018 budget and when the class of 2018 graduates.

The McCleary fines run in the millions, but they only exist on accountant’s ledger.


Update, 10:08 a.m.

Ahearne has concluded his statement.

“We are not talking about numbers, we are talking about real-world kids. … The state has so far succeeded in running the clock out on the McCleary and Venema children,” said plaintiff attorney Ahearne, referring to the fact that those children, in public schools when case started, are now out of high school.


Update, 9:58 a.m.

How much does the state contribute to teacher salaries? And local districts? More detail here.


Update, 9:55 a.m.

Thomas Ahearne, attorney for the plaintiffs, arguing the state needs to cover costs of building classrooms to lower class sizes and provide all-day kindergarten.


Update, 9:48 a.m.

The courtroom is packed. And justices have sounded skeptical of statements by both sides.


Update, 9:46 a.m.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn argued in a court brief that the state Supreme Court needs to get serious about enforcing its 2012 McCleary ruling. That means, he wrote, that the court should consider closing the schools until the Legislature makes real progress.

Washington isn’t the only state with court cases over education funding. Here’s what happened in some of the others.


Update, 9:39 a.m.

Ahearne, the plaintiffs’ attorney, making the argument that the state isn’t fully funding what it claims to be fully funding — including school-bus transportation, materials and supplies and full-day kindergarten.

Ahearne disagrees with the state about sanctions. He says they haven’t been effective.


Update, 9:34 a.m.

Thomas Ahearne, attorney for the plaintiffs, starting his arguments.

The McClearys had two children in public school in a rural district near Port Townsend when the lawsuit was filed in 2007. The McClearys, along with another family and a coalition of community groups, school districts and education organizations, won their case in trial court and then in the Supreme Court in 2012.


Update, 9:30 a.m.

Associate Chief Justice Charles Johnson asked the state’s attorney about teacher pay and the Legislature’s plan.

Just how much more money lawmakers need to put toward teacher compensation, and where those dollars come from, are among the Legislature’s most hotly contested issues as lawmakers wrestle with how to find enough money to fulfill the court’s orders.

Alan Copsey, state deputy solicitor general, speaks about the McCleary school-funding case before the state Supreme Court in Olympia on Wednesday. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
Alan Copsey, state deputy solicitor general, speaks about the McCleary school-funding case before the state Supreme Court in Olympia on Wednesday. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Where is the money going to come from? The Legislature can increase taxes, adopt a new tax, take money from other programs, or it can do some combination, Copsey said. The Legislature will have to determine what course to take.


Update, 9:22 a.m.

Justices have asked about the role of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Copsey says the office has the power of persuasion.

In June, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn filed a lawsuit against seven school districts alleging that they illegally rely on local levies to fund basic education. Dorn said the goal of the lawsuit is to put additional pressure on the Legislature to come up with a full plan to fund K-12 education.


Update, 9:17 a.m.

Justices are asking about the amount of money spent. Deputy Solicitor General Alan Copsey says there’s not a “magic dollar amount.” In court responses, the state said the estimated cost to fully fund K-12 basic education is about $19.7 billion for 2017-19. The estimated cost to fully fund salaries is not yet known.

Copsey says even if the the court continues the sanctions, that won’t change the commitment the Legislature has made. Last year, the court fined the state $100,000 a day until lawmakers presented a detailed plan for how it would comply with the McCleary ruling. The fines total more than $36 million. However, some legislators have said the fine isn’t real; it wasn’t included in the state’s 2015-17 operating budget or the supplemental budget approved in March. To date, the punishment hasn’t cost anything.

Copsey, asked whether $100,000-a-day fine has made a difference: “My assessment of it is that is has made a difference in getting the Legislature to adopt a plan.”

Want to better understand what it means to fully fund education? See our primer.


Update, 9:09 a.m.

First question from Justice Susan Owens includes statement that she’s looking back 40 years, not to 2012, and sees little progress in increasing school funding.

In the late 1970s, the Seattle School District sued, along with about two dozen other districts, arguing that the Washington Constitution required the state to cover the costs of a basic education and that they shouldn’t have to rely on the uncertainty of passing local levies to cover costs. The districts won. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Robert Doran, in a 1977 ruling later upheld by the state Supreme Court, agreed that the state was not living up to its constitutional duty and ordered lawmakers to define and fund a basic education for all students. Basic didn’t mean just learning to read and write: As the state Supreme Court put it, “basic” meant the kind of education that equips students to be citizens and competitors “in today’s market as well as in the marketplace of ideas.”


Update, 9:05 a.m.

Here we go.


Update, 8:50 a.m.

The hearing is about to begin in Olympia.

Here is a timeline of key developments in the McCleary case:


Update, 6 a.m.

The state Supreme Court ordered the state to appear in court Wednesday in the long-running McCleary school-funding case. The justices have a series of questions they want the state and the plaintiffs to answer before they decide whether to lift the $100,000 a day fine or add additional sanctions.

In a July order, the justices said that what remains to be done is “undeniably huge, but it is not undefinable.” Their questions range from how the state will come up with more money for its public schools to what officials mean when they say they’ll fulfill the state’s ruling by 2018 — whether that’s fall 2017, for example, or the end of 2018.  The plaintiffs include two families (one is the namesake McClearys) and a coalition of about 400 community groups, school districts and education organizations.

The case centers on language in the state Constitution, which says providing an ample education for Washington’s schoolchildren is the state’s paramount duty.

Seattle Times reporters Joe O’Sullivan and Paige Cornwell will provide live coverage of the hearing, which is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Olympia. We’ll have their updates, and additional context, here.

Have a question about the McCleary decision or education funding? Email us at edlab@seattletimes.com or tweet using the hashtag #McCleary and we’ll post the answers.