Washington Legislature Works to Address Court Order

Last Updated: May 30, 2013

This article appeared in the May 2013 Rural Policy Matters.

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State lawmakers have been working to address the ruling in the McCleary school funding case, in which the Washington State Supreme Court found the state’s finance laws unconstitutional and retained jurisdiction of the case to ensure that the remedy was fashioned in a timely way. Although there is agreement on the need to address education funding this session, the Washington Legislature has been sharply divided on how to pay for needed increases. (Editor’s note: See previous RSFN coverage here.)

The legislature faces a 2018 deadline to “amply” fund education. By many measures, they are already falling far short. The state’s high court ordered that the legislature make “real and measurable” progress toward compliance and report on the work following each session. In December, a high court order chastised the legislators for not making progress toward constitutional compliance and asked for a more detailed plan of their intent.

So far this year, the legislature has committed a $1.5 billion down payment toward compliance with the McCleary ruling. But there are political divisions over whether a tax increase is needed. The state has over $2 billion more in its coffers this biennium than last due to the economic rebound. Despite the increase in revenues, the coalition of plaintiff districts and stakeholders who led the lawsuit have said the proposed budgets from the House, Senate, and Governor do not come close to a level of education funding consistent with McCleary.

A number of key education measures must be fully funded by the 2018 deadline. They include reducing class sizes in grades K–3; increasing the number of required high school graduation credits; and increasing the hours of instruction in all grades, 7–12.

In February, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the requirement that any measures to raise revenues or close tax loopholes pass by a two-thirds supermajority in the state legislature. This development could make it easier to increase state taxes.

The budget negotiation process will continue into June.

Read more:

Read background and overview of the legislative requirements of McCleary here:

Coverage of the budget process:

Op-ed on how to fund the mandated revenue:

Op-ed on role of local tax levies in education funding:

Website of the statewide coalition that led the lawsuit, Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS):


Read more from the May 2013 Rural Policy Matters.