Remedy Phase in Washington State Finance Case Moves Forward

Last Updated: September 26, 2012

This article appeared in the September 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Lawmakers in Washington State submitted the first of a series of reports to the state supreme court this month. The report explains what the state is doing to address the court’s ruling to meet its constitutional obligation to provide enough funding for a basic education.

In January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court found that the school funding system was unconstitutional; the court also said that it would not stand idly by while the legislature did nothing.

A July court order obligated the state to file this month’s report and future reports, due sixty days after each biennial or supplemental budget through 2018. The order reiterated that the state must be in full compliance with Article IX and related legislation requiring the state to “amply” fund education by 2018. Each of the State's compliance reports must demonstrate "real," "measurable" and "steady" progress toward meeting that deadline.

Uniquely, the state high court is communicating directly with the Legislature rather than designating a court monitor or other referee. The legislature formed the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation specifically to communicate with the court. The bipartisan group unanimously submitted the first report, largely a recap of the case and overview of the state’s funding system.

The Committee’s report also highlights the work of the Joint Task Force on Education Funding, which is charged with finding a “permanent and reliable” funding source to implement the mandates of Article IX. One emerging debate among members is whether compliance with the court order will require new revenue sources.

The plaintiff coalition, Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), currently includes 193 school districts and represents over 90 percent of Washington's public school students. The named plaintiffs are Matthew and Stephanie McCleary, parents of students living in rural Chimacum, Washington.

In related news, a lawsuit challenging Washington’s supermajority law was heard by the state supreme court this month. The law, almost 20 years old, requires a two-thirds legislative majority to increase taxes or close tax loopholes. A coalition of lawmakers and education advocates filed the suit, challenging the law’s constitutionality. Many in the state see the lawsuit as closely related to the outcome of the school funding case because legislators could more easily increase revenue to meet the constitutional requirements. A ruling is expected sometime before the 2013 Legislative Session.

Editor’s note: see previous RSFN coverage here.

Read more:

Local coverage:

Website of the plaintiff coalition, Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS):

Earlier coverage of this summer’s order:

Coverage of the supermajority lawsuit:

Read more from the September 2012 Rural Policy Matters.