In a 2012 decision, the Washington Supreme Court held that the state’s education finance system was unconstitutional; it gave the legislature until 2018 to phase-in a comprehensive remedy and ordered the legislature to file annual reports on its progress toward that goal. After finding that recent reports had failed to provide “a complete plan” for fully implementing constitutional requirements by 2018, last year, the Court held the legislature in contempt and ordered daily $100,000 fines until such a plan is developed. (See Access summary of WA litigation history.)
On May 18, 2016, the legislative Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation submitted its annual report to the Court. The report stated that since 2010, funding for education has increased by $4.6 billion, and that the State has now fully complied with court requirements regarding an enhanced statutory formula for materials, supplies, and operating costs, full statewide funding for kindergarten, K-3 class size reduction, and other items.
The main outstanding issue is the state’s responsibility under the constitution’s basic education requirements to fully fund teacher and other school-employee salaries at the state level, as opposed to relying on local school district property taxes to help pay these personnel. On this key issue, the report says that the Legislature has adopted a process to assemble the final pieces of analysis necessary to make data-based revisions to the state’s salary allocations, and that it has established deadlines and deliverables so that these reforms will be enacted in the 2017 legislative session, and may be implemented in 2018 as directed by the Court.
Critics have argued that that the Legislature hasn’t come up with the definitive plan that the Court ordered and that the Legislature is “thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court.” The state and the plaintiffs have until June 17 to submit briefs to the Court arguing whether or not the court should lift the contempt sanctions.