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Paramount Duty: Good Fiction or Constitutional Obligation?

“It’s been said that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” Justice Charles Wiggins said to the attorney representing the state. “Why should we think that you’re going to do something different?”

Article IX: Good Fiction or Constitutional Obligation?

The State responded to the Washington State Supreme Court on a Wednesday afternoon hearing. Alan Copsey, from the Attorney General's office, and Thomas Ahearne, counsel for the McCleary family and Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), provided testimony about the actions the Court should take since the Legislature has not made adequate progress in funding K-12 education. AWSP is a member of NEWS, along with 430 other entities.

Tom Ahearne called on the Court to:

  1. hold the legislature in contempt,
  2. pass no unfunded mandates for education in the upcoming session, and
  3. complete a funding plan by December 31, 2014, which would require a special session during this election year.

If those actions are not implemented, Ahearne said the “paramount duty” in Article 9 Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution was just like a John Grisham novel, “good fiction.” He also said the banner above the entrance to the Temple of Justice in Olympia –– “Justice - Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” –– would be nothing more than a nice jingle unless the court holds the Legislature in contempt.

Alan Copsey agreed that the Legislature has failed to submit a funding plan to the Supreme Court after the 2014 session, but in the larger context, holding the Legislature in contempt would divert the attention of the House and Senate from the prize of fully funding schools. He also argued that the Legislature has not missed any deadlines contained in recent legislation and suggested the Court look at three options:

  1. Wait until the end of the 2015 session to allow the Legislature time to figure out how to pay for the $2-6 billion estimated to fully implement the McCleary decision.
  2. Tell the Legislature how much money they need to come up with in 2015 to make adequate progress towards fully funding schools.
  3. Warn the Legislature that the Court will invalidate parts of the 2013-15 budget if benchmarks are not met to meet their constitutional obligations.

Five former Washington governors and State Superintendent Randy Dorn called on the Court to wait until after the 2015 session to hold the Legislature in contempt. If the Legislature was held in contempt, some of the punishments the Court could impose include monetary sanctions, prohibiting other state expenditures, requiring specific K-12 funding legislation, sale of state property to fund education, or repealing 600 tax breaks currently in law.

The court made no public decision on Wednesday and no timeline for a decision has been announced.

Selected dates important to the McCleary Case Timeline:

  • 2009 – McLeary v. State trial held in King County Superior Court
  • 2009 – HB 2276 became law and laid out a plan of what would be needed to fully fund of the McCleary decision
  • 2010 – HB 2261 became law and contained a implementation plan
  • 2012 – Supreme Court orders the legislature to come up with a plan
  • 2013 – Supreme Court again orders the legislature to come up with a plan
  • 2013 – State adds almost $1 billion to K-12 education budget of which $500 million came from one-time funds and transfers
  • 2014 – Supreme Court holds a show cause hearing on education funding (Wednesday)
  • 2018 – McCleary decision is to be fully funded

TVW has the 50-minute hearing archived so you can watch it at your convenience.