Posted by: Tim Sweeney | January 22, 2014

The Supremes want Legislature to show them the money

Tim Sweeney is The Policy Junkie

Tim Sweeney is The Policy Junkie

As the state’s Supreme Court justices promenaded into the state House chambers last week in preparation for the Governor’s State of the State address, I couldn’t help wondering if they were carrying handcuffs under their robes.

But I suppose it would be premature to cuff the governor and legislators, seeing how the state’s highest court has given them until April 30  to come up with a plan for how they are going to fund basic education in Washington.

How did we get into a position where one branch of our government is threatening the other two branches with contempt of court?  The answer begins with the adoption of our state constitution and the preamble to Article IX: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

Over the years, legislative action has defined what that education should be and the courts have made it clear that the state is responsible for paying for it.

WA Supreme Court

WA Supreme Court

The dilemma is that while the Legislature is fond of adding to the definition of basic education, it hasn’t been as rigorous about funding it. This is a huge problem for school districts that have struggled to meet expectations without sufficient state funding.  As a result, school levies have been pressed into paying for basic education –even though the court has ruled that local levies are not to be used for that purpose.

Locally, we have two school bonds up for a vote right now in Lynden and Ferndale. I’m working on an article about them that should be live Thursday.

In the height of the recession, the Legislature, wishing to do something about education but not having the votes to pay for anything substantive, passed two bills that basically dug the hole deeper.  

In 2009, the Legislature adopted House Bill 2261 which revised the definition of Basic Education (i.e. increased funding needs) and established new methods for distributing state funds to school districts to support Basic Education. The next year, the Legislature adopted House Bill 2776 which specified formulas to guide funding for principals, teachers, administrators, librarians, counselors, office staff, custodians and other personnel essential to running a school. Senator Ericksen (a state representative at the time) voted for the 2009 bill on final passage but not the 2010 bill. Senator Ranker and Representative Morris voted for both bills. Our other three area legislators were not yet in office.

When the funds needed to pay for this legislation did not emerge, a lawsuit ensued and the court issued the McCleary decision. Ironically, state attorneys cited HB 2261 and HB 2776 as evidence that the state was remedying deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.  And it would have. . .had those remedies been funded. That order came in 2012 (two full legislative sessions ago) and the court is clearly losing its patience.

According to the court’s most recent order, Washington needs to increase its funding of basic education by at least $3.6 billion by next biennium (July 1, 2015 to June 30 2017)  or risk being held in contempt of court.

“We will not idly stand by as the legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform. Our decision in this case remains fully subject to judicial enforcement,” reads the January 9 order by the Supremes.

Randy Dorn, State Superintendent

Randy Dorn, State Superintendent

The House Republican solution is to meet the basic education funding needs first before any other state services are covered. In the absence of a revenue increase, this decision is the same as cutting other state services by the amount increased for education.

An Olympian editorial (carried on the Bellingham Herald website) said it could not  “see how lawmakers can satisfy the Supreme Court without creating new revenue.

Our state school superintendent, Randy Dorn, has proposed raising the sales tax as a way of fully funding education. But, as discussed in an earlier article, our sales tax is a regressive tax that hits lower income households harder than higher income households.

Draconian cuts, unfair tax increases . . . Where are those handcuffs?



  1. This is where the millionaire’s tax could be useful. Or, close some of the over 500 loophole in our tax law that allow all kinds of business and activities to exist without paying their share of tax into our coffers for our kids. Or, go after the employers that perpetrate wage theft against their emplyees. If you don’t pay your employees properly, you don’t pay the taxes on the pay you didn’t pay, and you shortchange our shared obligations for infrastructure and our kids and elderly.

    All of these categories would help achieve prosperity and job creation.

    • I hear you. Interestingly, Mayor DeBlasio this week said no to his Governor’s offer of Pre-K funding because it was not financed by the a wealth tax:

      • DeBlasio also said he is not going to plow the Upper East Side after the snow storm because that is where the rich live.

    • Define wage theft and paying employees properly.

      What an outrageous comment.

      Move to Cuba.

  2. One would be totally remiss not to view this education debate in a national context which reveals the driving force behind these seemingly incomprehensible activities in the various states, including Washington. It is about the corporatization and the effort to standardize (read “dumb down”) the curricula in not only our public primary and secondary schools but also in our universities. This all for the purpose of creating a citizenry who cannot think critically.

    Last year in Counterpunch, Mark Graham wrote: “The enemies of American education hate it because it is public-powered, union-friendly, and people-centered. Public education doesn’t exist to churn out cheap crap so someone can make a buck. At its best, it teaches tolerance, promotes democratic values, and invests in the potential of each and every one of its students. And that’s its main problem. That’s why Democrats and Republicans alike are hell-bent on transforming our schools into a tyrannical instrument of corporate power through increased standardization of curricula, instruction, and assessments. Their goal is to manufacture “proficient” students and “distinguished” teachers—an educational master race judged by objective and scientific criteria. The end result of such technocratic pedagogy is nothing less than a eugenics of the mind.”

    Part of this effort to destroy public schools is the drive for charter schools. The Washington electorate foolishly fell for that ploy in the form of a state initiative recently. I wrote about that monumental folly for NWCitizen at and at

    Note that Graham wrote “Democrats and Republicans alike”. Both parties are terrified of an informed electorate. Read more at:

  3. […] Strong words. So what is this constitutional crisis that Overstreet and Buys are so concern about? Simple, the Supreme Court told the legislature to fund education. […]

  4. […] the pressure is on over education. The battlelines are pretty clear, the state legislature has been ordered by the supreme court to fund education. In their McCleary decision, the Supreme Court laid out specifically what had to be funded and that […]

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