No hammer will come down this year as a result of the Legislature’s failure to come up with plan to fully fund public schools, the state Supreme Court said Thursday.
Instead, the high court said it will continue fining Washington state $100,000 per day, but it will wait to see what progress lawmakers make in the 2017 legislative session before imposing additional sanctions.
The court’s ruling is the the latest turn in the school-funding case known as McCleary, in which the court ruled in 2012 that Washington state was failing to meet its constitutional duty to amply fund basic education. In the original order, the court ordered the state to correct funding problems by 2018.
At a hearing before the high court last month, attorneys for the group of parents, teachers unions and school districts that sued the state over school funding argued that justices should order harsher sanctions starting in fall 2017 should lawmakers fail to act by then.
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The plaintiffs’ attorney, Thomas Ahearne, had asked the court to either pledge to shut down the state’s school system next fall or invalidate all tax breaks in the state budget should lawmakers not correct remaining problems, such as local school districts paying for school-employee salaries that should be covered by the state.
Lawyers representing Washington state, however, had argued that lawmakers had passed a measure promising to study school-funding problems and fix them next year, and asked the court to lift the daily fine against the state as well as a 2014 order finding the state in contempt.
The court on Thursday did neither. The Thursday order continues the status quo, leaving the fine in place while remaining vague about what further sanctions the court might impose if lawmakers don’t make progress in 2017.
Also in Thursday’s order, the court clarified that the 2018 deadline for fully funding schools means the state’s school-funding system must be corrected by the start of the 2018-19 school year — not the start of the 2018 calendar year.
This story will be updated.