Washington's Supreme Court holds state in contempt over education

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 11, 2014 3:21 PM

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Washington state's Supreme Court on Thursday found the legislature in contempt for failing to uphold a court order to come up with a plan to infuse billions of dollars into public education.

In a unanimous ruling, the court said state lawmakers were not meeting a "paramount duty ... to make ample provisions for the education of all children residing within its borders."

The court did not issue any punishments, saying sanctions could be leveled in 2015 if lawmakers do not complete a plan on how to fund schooling for kindergarten through 12th grade by the end of that legislative session.

Thursday's contempt ruling stems from a 2012 state Supreme Court decision which found the state had failed to "amply" fund public education for Washington's one million school children.

The decision stems from a 2007 lawsuit filed by the Network for Excellence in Seattle on behalf of parents Matthew and Stephanie McCleary, who argued the state was violating the Constitution because it was not fully funding what it costs to pay teachers, provide transportation for students and maintain buildings.

Under the ruling McCleary v. State, the legislature was to find and re-route billions of dollars into the education system by 2018 to ensure smaller class sizes, bolster kindergarten education and provide learning assistance to at-risk students.

The state had argued that it had adequately funded education and said diverting tax revenue could lead to shortfalls in other public services.

Lawmakers were ordered to present a timeline to implement the changes but failed to meet benchmarks after the 2014 legislative session, the court ruled.

Last week, the Supreme Court convened a hearing in which the state admitted it had not complied with previous orders but asked for more time to outline its budget plan.

Lawmakers are expected to find about $1 billion over the next two years with much of that money going to classroom supplies, transportation and targeted education plans for struggling students.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere)