The state Supreme Court issued a unanimous order Wednesday in the long-running case over Washington’s broken school-finance system. Here’s how we got to this point, and what comes next.

Share story

For those who haven’t been following the landmark McCleary school-funding case closely (and for those who wonder what’s next), here are the basics:

What is this case about?

In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court ruled the state wasn’t spending enough money to cover the costs of a basic education for public-school students in this state. The justices ordered the Legislature to fix that by lawmakers’ self-imposed deadline of Sept. 1, 2018.

What’s a basic education?

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

In its most recent ruling, the justices define it as “the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.”

What happened Wednesday?

During their last legislative session, lawmakers passed a four-year budget designed to comply with the court’s 2012 order. The Wednesday ruling was the justices’ response — and they said lawmakers fell short, not in the amount of money that lawmakers are planning to eventually channel to public schools, but because they weren’t planning to make the September 2018 deadline.

What have lawmakers done so far?

Lawmakers have spent billions of dollars to lower class sizes, offer full-day kindergarten, provide school-bus services and cover the costs of school supplies. The state’s new budget also includes money to cover the full cost of teacher and other school staff salaries (which local districts have been helping cover) — but that funding doesn’t fully kick in until the 2019-20 school year.

What’s left to do?

The Supreme Court said the state’s plan, if in place by Sept. 1, 2018, would be good. The justices’ only problem appeared to be timing. In a hearing last month, the state estimated it’s $1 billion short of full funding for teacher salaries for the 2018-19 school year. The court now wants lawmakers to get that funding in place by the September 2018 deadline, a year earlier than lawmakers had planned.

What if lawmakers do nothing?

If the Legislature doesn’t enact a final fix by the end of its session next year, the justices warned they will immediately consider “additional remedial measures” on top of a $100,000 per day fine they placed on the state in 2015. They did not say what other sanctions might be on the table.