State Supreme Court finds Legislature in contempt for failing to fund education

By Emily Parkhurst, originally published by Puget Sound Business Journal

The state's highest court unanimously ruled Thursday that the Washington state Legislature is in contempt for failing to fund education in accordance with the McCleary ruling the court handed down in 2012.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature wasn't meeting its "paramount duty … to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders," although it does not plan to issue any sanctions until 2015.

The court is giving the state a chance to respond to the ruling in the 2015 legislative session. If, by the end of the 2015 session, the Legislature has not put together a plan that includes funding basic education between then and the 2017-18 school year, the court will "reconvene to impose sanctions and other remedial measures as necessary," according to the ruling.

"This unprecedented action by the Supreme Court is a critical moment in our history," Gov.Jay Inslee said in a statement Thursday. "No one should be surprised, yet no one should minimize the court’s order. I urged lawmakers to act this year and agreed with the court that we must do more to adequately fund education, which I believe is both a constitutional and moral obligation."

The McCleary case argued that the state had a constitutional requirement to fund education for all students and that it was failing to do so. The court ruled in the plaintiffs' – the McCleary family – favor and ordered the state to fully fund education. So far, the state has not put a plan in place to do that.

Inslee said today that his budget team is working to craft a plan for the 2015 session that will include funding for education.

In the McCleary ruling, the court stated that it "cannot stand idly by as the Legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform."

Business in Washington state have been calling for more funding for education – both K-12 and higher education – for years. The issue is directly related to recruiting, as businesses struggle to find talented people to fill open positions. The Washington Technology Industry Association said recently that Washington state created 5,000 new jobs that required science and technology workers last year and produced only about 1,000 people to fill those jobs.

Tech companies are getting involved in helping to educate Washington's students.But as I argued here, that isn't enough.

We'll have to wait and see if being held in contempt by the state's highest court is enough of an incentive to get a funding plan through the Legislature.