We will be providing live updates from the McCleary school-funding hearing in Olympia, where lawyers will argue whether Washington has met its duty, under the state constitution, to fully fund K-12 basic education.
What you need to know:
- This morning, the Washington Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether the state finally has fixed its broken school-finance system with the passage of a $7.3 billion funding package. Read details of that four-year spending plan here.
- In a landmark decision known as McCleary, the Supreme Court ruled five years ago that Washington state was violating its constitution by failing to pay the cost of providing a basic education to the roughly one million public-school students in the state. The justices later found the state in contempt for not moving fast enough toward that goal, and slapped a $100,000-per-day sanction on the state. As of Tuesday, those fines totaled $80.3 million.
- Attorneys for the state and plaintiffs disagree on whether lawmakers have complied with the court’s 2012 McCleary order. Some groups — and the large number of plaintiffs in the case — say lawmakers haven’t done what justices asked, and are pressing them to end corporate tax breaks to pressure the Legislature to do more. Others simply want the court to maintain jurisdiction in the case until 2021 to ensure the state fulfills the promises set out in the budget plan.
- The hearing is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Reporter Joseph O’Sullivan will provide live updates from Olympia. We’ll post those and other updates here. Have a question about the McCleary decision or education funding? Email engagement editor Dahlia Bazzaz at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @educationlab.
This is a live feed of the McCleary hearing, which has ended. Full recap: Supreme Court justices ask lots of touch questions on McCleary school-funding case
Update, 11:04 a.m.:
The justices conclude by asking about the daily fines the state has accrued since the justices found the state in contempt in 2015. Those fines total about $80 million.
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The hearing ended as it started, with justices asking questions almost immediately after attorneys for both sides started speaking. They asked pointed questions of both sides, including, from Gonzalez, a straightforward one: What did they want the court to do? Both sides agree that lawmakers did not make the 2018 deadline set out by the court. Ahearne said plaintiffs want justices to order lawmakers to fully comply with the 2012 McCleary ruling in the short legislative session that starts early next year. Copsey said state wants justices to say all is now well but, as a fallback, retain jurisdiction to make sure lawmakers follow through on promises made this past legislative session.
Update, 10:57 a.m.:
In his nine-minute rebuttal, Copsey says that the new school plan has $8.3 billion dollars in funding over the two-biennium. He points out that that sum could fund the Department of Corrections, colleges and other branches of government. Chief Justice Mary Fairhust says she’s skeptical about how to trust the state when it took so long to get a plan for the 2012 court order. Copsey says the state does not have full funding in place by the 2018 deadline, but the money is set to come in later.
Update, 10:54 a.m.:
Ahearne concludes his remarks by saying the Legislature has an “alligator mouth and a butterfly body.”
Copsey is back for his rebuttal.
Update, 10:50 a.m.:
Ahearne gets a tough question from Stephens on whether he’s arguing that school-finance models are unconstitutional, which the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled. Ahearne tries to clarify that the funding for that model is what’s unconstitutional.
Stephens: If we ordered the Legislature to fund more in the 2018 budget, what’s the number? How do we figure that out?
Ahearne gives no number, but says the state hasn’t done enough.
“The state has thrown a bunch of numbers on the wall and said ‘Golly gee we hope this works,'” he says.
Update, 10:43 a.m.:
Ahearne cites a messy budget, which narrowly averted a government shutdown and allowed nearly zero time for review.
Update, 10:38 a.m.:
The justices seem skeptical of Ahearne’s argument, ask if they should return the case to the lower court.
Justice Charlie Wiggins: “I’m not sure what you want us to do.”
Update, 10:28 a.m.:
On the levy swap, Ahearne says “changing the name of that dollar doesn’t change the underfunding.” The justices have asked attorneys the dollar amount of the shortfall. Ahearne argues that the shortfall is billions.
“I think we’re frustrated with both your answers,” Gonzalez says.
Justice Debra Stephens asks if they are debating $2 billion versus $2.1 billion for teacher salaries. Are they at that point? she asks.
Ahearne: That’s in the ballpark.
Update, 10:22 a.m.:
Copsey concludes his remarks. Attorney Tom Ahearne, the lead attorney for the coalition of education advocates that filed the McCleary lawsuit, is about to speak.
Update, 10:17 a.m.:
Justice Steven Gonzalez says districts can’t choose how many special needs students it enrolls, so why is it fair for the state to cap funding for those students?
Copsey says some students have greater needs, but no one can claim underfunding until it’s seen on the ground.
The Arc of King County and other advocates of students with disabilities has argued that the state continues to underfund services for students who qualify for special education programs, especially thanks to a cap on how many students in each district get extra money for support. The Arc estimated districts lost out on funding for nearly 2,000 students with special needs in the 2016-17 school year because of that cap.
Update, 10:10 a.m.:
Justice Mary Yu asks about the regional teacher pay model in the new plan. She wonders how it’s fair for teachers in rural schools.
“It was an attempt at equity, at fairness,” Copsey says.
Update, 10 a.m.:
The hearing has started. Alan Copsey, deputy solicitor general for the state attorney general’s office, calls the new funding system a “sea change,” adding that new money can’t be dumped into the school system at once. Justices have asked Copsey about the school-funding shortfall and whether the funding is in place.
Update, 9:15 a.m.:
About two dozen people have gathered for a rally outside the Temple of Justice in Olympia.
“The Supreme Court has already done its job, several times over, and we are here because our Legislature and our governor need to do their jobs,” said Summer Stinson of Washington’s Paramount Duty. “It’s now time for the Legislature and governor to amply fund our schools. In the McCleary decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Washington Constitution requires the state as its paramount duty to amply fund the actual costs of basic education for every child in our state from regular and dependable tax sources. That’s a mouthful, but it’s all important.”
Update, 7 a.m.:
Parents and teachers already are en route to Olympia, where they will host a rally on the steps of the Temple of Justice before the 10 a.m. hearing.
Several groups have sponsored that event, including Washington’s Paramount Duty, the NAACP, Arc of King County, Seattle Council PTSA and Multicultural Education Rights Alliance. According to a Facebook page for the event, the groups believe many school districts will receive less funding than they did before the 2017 legislative session.
The plaintiffs and the state have been debating the issues for months in legal briefs, and on Monday, Seattle Public Schools and the state teachers union issued public statements giving their views on the case.
State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, the GOP’s chief budget writer, released a 35-page treatise on why he thinks lawmakers have raised spending beyond the level the Supreme Court required. His analysis cites figures showing the state’s per-pupil funding rate will nearly double by 2020 — from $6,639 in 2012 to a projected $11,996.
“Make no mistake, the infusion of funds and investments — well beyond what McCleary required — has been unique in Washington’s history,” Braun wrote.
He also stated that in 2020, when the Legislature’s new spending plan is supposed to be fully implemented, Washington will rank among the top five states for per-pupil funding.
Later Monday, Seattle Public Schools argued just the opposite: that the state budget will leave it in worse financial shape. The district previously released its own analysis of the state budget, and forecast its funding will fall $79.1 million short by the 2019-20 school year.
“We do not believe the Court intended for the Legislature to institutionalize a new system of inequity,” the district said in a statement. “It is our hope the justices act quickly to direct legislators to fix the new problems that have been created.”
Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, echoed that assessment.
In a statement, the teachers union head said the state still isn’t providing enough money for smaller class sizes in grades 4-12, competitive teacher salaries and school construction.
“While the 2017 Legislature made progress, it’s clear to educators that the state is not amply funding K-12 basic education as required by the Washington Constitution and the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision,” Mead said.
Watch the Supreme Court hearing live here.