Politics & Government

State asks for more time for lawmakers to comply with McCleary education funding order

The state Attorney General’s Office is asking the state Supreme Court to wait until the Legislature has completed its work before deciding whether to impose contempt sanctions in an education funding case.

The high court found the state in contempt in September over the Legislature’s failure to deliver a plan to fully fund basic education in Washington by 2018. The contempt finding stemmed from a previous order in the case known as McCleary, in which the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the Legislature was shirking its constitutional duty to fully fund the state’s school system.

The Attorney General’s Office was required to respond to the court Monday, the first day after the Legislature’s regular 2015 session, to explain what lawmakers had done to purge the contempt order and why the court shouldn’t impose sanctions.

Lawmakers adjourned Friday without finalizing a new two-year budget that would fund requirements of the McCleary ruling, including expanding all-day kindergarten and reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. The Legislature also didn’t approve a plan to reduce the state’s overreliance on local school district levies to pay for basic education costs, such as teacher salaries, that the court has said are the state’s responsibility.

The Legislature will begin a 30-day special session Wednesday to try to reach a budget deal, as well as address the unconstitutional use of local school district levies.

In Monday’s court filing, attorneys for the state argued that lawmakers are considering several education funding proposals that would satisfy parts of the McCleary ruling.

They said they will file an updated brief with the court “after the final special session adjourns and the Governor acts on the budget.”

“Unless the court orders otherwise,” the brief says.

The state’s attorneys note that both the House and Senate’s proposed budgets would fully fund school materials, supplies and operating costs as required under McCleary, as well as phase in all-day kindergarten ahead of schedule. Either plan would also reduce K-3 class sizes to 17 students by the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, consistent with the court’s order.

The brief further cites three proposals to revamp state funding of teacher salaries and shift personnel costs away from school districts as evidence that lawmakers are making progress.

Still, state schools chief Randy Dorn expressed disappointment Monday about the Legislature’s actions so far. He urged the Legislature to take the court’s order seriously during its upcoming special session.

“Simply put, the State hasn’t done enough for the Supreme Court to lift the contempt order,” said a statement from Dorn, who leads the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. “That means we are no closer to full state funding of our schools now than we were six months ago.”

“Our students have waited too long already, and I doubt the Supreme Court will tolerate further delay,” Dorn said.