Washington Supreme Court Fines State $100,000.00 Per Day For Legislature Failing To Fund Education

By Darren Smith, Weekend contributor

washington-flag-sealNearly eleven months after holding the State of Washington in contempt for failing to provide an adequate funding plan for financing primary education in the state, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order fining the state $100,000.00 per day until the legislature satisfies the Court’s judgement in its landmark McCleary decision.

After three special sessions, the Legislature failed to provide a clear and fully funded plan. The Court acted, much to the chagrin of many of the state legislators. A few of which had some rather interesting solutions to address their failures to act.

For a primer on the McCleary decision and the holding of the legislature in contempt, please refer to our article HERE.

Thursday’s order imposing sanctions may be read HERE.

Washington’s constitution requires under Article IX Section provides only one 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.” Under McCleary v State, 173 Wn.2d 477, 269 P.3d 227 (2012) the Court held the state failed to provide for this requirement in its present education program. The Court allowed the Legislature the opportunity to remedy this condition through appropriate legislation but retained the right to monitor compliance with its order.

The Court showed considerable frustration with the Legislature failing to adhere to the goal of full funding and implementation of an adequate program despite previous contempt orders and its failure to act despite several extended sessions where budgetary programs were being enacted. It did however agree that some of the efforts where commendable but mostly fell short of the 2018 goals and deadlines the legislative committee estimated or the Court mandated.

Several deficiencies generally are noted:

  • Failure to fund adequate student transportation, supplies, essential materials, and operating costs;
  • Failure to establish plans for all-day kindergarten
  • Failure to fully fund constitutionally adequate levels of compensation for educators and administrators to retain and attract talent;
  • Failure to reduce class sizes;
  • Failure to transfer salary and personnel costs from local districts to that of the state;
  • Failure to adopt a plan to meet constitutional restructuring of the primary education system by its 2018 deadline;
  • Though the Legislature did allocate $350 million for K-3 class size reduction to seventeen students the projected benchmarks for this will fail to meet this datum in lower income schools will miss this by one student in second grade and will have 21 by the third grade. The Legislature’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding estimated in 2012 that $662.8 would be required to fully finance this requirement for this biennium and for the next $1.15 billion;
  • The JTFEF estimated that a shortfall of 4,000 teachers exists for staffing the full time kindergarten requirement and the Legislature failed to address this element;
  • And for the failure to establish and achieve benchmarks as directed by the Court.

The Court articulated that sanctions are appropriate for the State’s “continued failure to comply with court orders.”

Despite repeated opportunities to comply with the court’s order to provide and implementation plan, the State has not shown how it will achieve full funding of all elements of basic education by 2018. The State therefore remains in contempt of this court’s order of January 9, 2014. The State urges the court to hold off on imposing sanctions, to wait and see if the State achieves full compliance by the 2018 deadline. But time is simply too short for the court to be assured that, without the impetus of sanctions, the State will timely meet its constitutional obligations. There has been uneven progress to date, and the reality is that 2018 is less than a full budget cycle away. As this court emphasized in its original order in this matter, “we cannot wait until ‘graduation’ in 2018 to determine if the State has met minimum constitutional standards.”

The court has inherent power to impose remedial sanctions when contempt consists of the failure to perform an act ordered by the court that is yet within the power of a party to perform. Blanchard v. Golden Age Brewing Co., 188 Wash. 396, 423, 63 P.2d 397 (1936) (“The power of a court, created by the constitution, to punish for contempt for disobedience of its mandates, is inherent. The power comes into being upon the very creation of such a court and remains with it as long as the court exists. Without such power, the court could ill exercise and power, for it would then be nothing more than a mere advisory body.”) Monetary sanctions are among the proper remedial sanctions to impose, though the court also may issue any order designated to ensure compliance with a prior order of the court. When, as here, contempt results in an ongoing constitutional violation, sanctions are an important part of securing the promise that a court order embodies: the promise that a constitutional violation will not go unremedied.

Given the gravity of the State’s ongoing violation of its constitutional obligation to amply provide for the public education, and in light of the need for expeditious action, the time has come for the court to impose sanctions. A monetary sanction is appropriate to emphasize the cost to the children, indeed to all of the people of this state, for every day the State fails to adopt a plan for full compliance with article IX, section 1. At the same time, this sanction is less intrusive than other available options, including directing the means the State must use to come into compliance with the court’s order.

Governor Jay Inslee
Governor Jay Inslee

The court then sent its address to the Governor to convene a special session for the legislature to mettle out a plan to conform to the court’s directives. The court ordered that it would suspend the $100,000.00 daily penalty each day the legislature sits in session to debate a plan. The monetary sanction would be held in trust to be applied to education funding.

The order had the unanimous support of the full court.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared in an interview that he would on Monday of next week meet with leaders of the Legislature to “begin the necessary and difficult work before us. There is much that needs to be done before a special session can be called.” He stated that he “will ask lawmakers to do that work as quickly as humanly possible so that they can step up to our constitutional and moral obligations to our children and lift the court sanctions.”

But, in separate statements leaders of both the House and the Senate showed the same dismissive attitude that got them into this situation to begin with, claiming that a special session is not necessary and the matter could wait until January.

Matt Manweller
Matt Manweller
Chad Magendanz
Chad Magendanz

The Olympian newspaper reported that Representative Chad Magendaz of Issaquah stated that the legislature could easily absorb the $21,000,000.00 accrued penalty by not convening until the start of the January and sitting until the March, 2016 adjournment. He claimed that the legislature could then during that session address the McCleary requirements.

While many legislators were conciliatory, one in particular expressed outright defiance and in many respects rather boorish behavior considering all the intricacies and ramifications of the matter. Representative Matt Manweller of Ellensburg declared that the legislature should consider investigating the Justices and removing some from office. A few tweets offer his true self to the public:

This type of attitude is not surprising however considering the fact that the legislature refused the courtesy of allowing Chief Justice Barbara Madsen to give the State of the Judiciary Address to the legislature, instructing her to send them an e-Mail with the details.

Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen
Washington Chief Justice Barbara Madsen

It seems clear that many in the legislature would rather take their vacation than be inconvenienced to perform the duty that they had since 2012 to accept and implement. After all, what’s twenty-one million to a politician? Maybe it could have been spent on lesser projects instead, such as helping to restore the voters’ faith in government through leadership and vision instead of dismissing the Court’s mandate.

Despite these political theatrics the Supreme Court is going to have the final say in the matter. As implied in its order the Court retains the ability to impose additional sanctions if the Legislature fails to perform on its duty and “go rogue”.

By Darren Smith


McCleary v. State
The Olympian
Twitter, Matt Manweller (Photo Credit)
Twitter, Chad Magendanz (Photo Credit)

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

41 thoughts on “Washington Supreme Court Fines State $100,000.00 Per Day For Legislature Failing To Fund Education”

  1. DBQ

    Confused? Union teachers, taxpayers and baseball bats. Now meet Principal Joe Clark, “Crazy Joe”….. The guy with a baseball bat.

  2. Right now there is a huge teacher shortage. Arizona is trying to convince retired teachers to come-back. But I think the legislature should handle it like Huey Long did, move the Washington Supreme Court to some disused state warehouse and sell the court building to make up any short fall.

  3. The Legislature should reduce the Courts next appropriation by the amount of the fine.

  4. I’m confused on several levels by this story

    1. Who devised these bullet point deficiencies? Where they part of a bill or law that the Legislature passed? OR were they devised by the Court? If the Court devised/demanded these bullet point actions, then I must agree with Manweller in that it is the not the role of the Courts to make the budgets for the Legislature.

    2. Most of those “deficiencies” are items that substantially increase the COSTS of primary education. Are they really necessary to the education of all of the students in the State? Perhaps some of those items could be eliminated and therefore make budgeting a more realistic goal.

    3. WHAT is all day kindergarten? Does this mean that 5 year old children are in school ALL DAY LONG? If so that is the most ridiculous idea ever and I would home school first. Do they mean that they are going to have two sessions of kindergarten? Morning and afternoon? This would incredibly increase the transportation costs especially in rural areas of the State of Washington……there are a LOT of rural areas. Everything isn’t Seattle you know.

    4. that a shortfall of 4,000 teachers exists for staffing the full time kindergarten requirement Again something that is incredibly expensive when you consider the teachers are unionized with massive gold plated pensions and benefit packages. NO wonder they can’t meet the requirements. If they didn’t require credentialed staff for kindergarten and didn’t have all day/full time kindergarten they would be able to meet their goal a bit easier. Kindergarten is basically State funded, mandatory, babysitting anyway.

    Ample provision is a pretty nebulous term. What does that mean. Does it mean that the students all get limo rides to school and have professional quality soccer or football fields. Or does it mean that the students get a clean, warm or cool as the season requires, learning environment with books and study materials? Ample doesn’t necessarily mean luxury as long as you get the job done.

    Personally, I think that our education system is about the worst in the world with inadequate, un-knowledgable teachers boring the students to death and indoctrinating them instead of actually teaching. Nothing personal to those here — the teachers or family of teachers—- but in my career, with the exception of a few science or math types…….teachers have been the dumbest most deer in the headlights clients I have ever had the misfortune to try to reach. Dumber than a box of rocks most of them.

  5. It would appear that all the judiciaries in this country are ignorant of the fundamentals. (That’s not surprising when they learn the law primarily from court precedent.)

    First and foremost, no court can act without first acquiring personal jurisdiction over the party before it. Unlike a person or corporation, the Court has no means by which to acquire personal jurisdiction over another branch of the state government.

    Constitutional Law – Separation of Powers – Test. An activity of one branch of government violates the separation of powers doctrine only if it threatens the independence or integrity, or invades the prerogatives, of another branch.

    The Washington State Supreme Court has violated the Separation of Powers Doctrine and it did so by want of personal jurisdiction.

    The only remedy in these situations lies at the ballot box.

  6. This fine shows the contempt the govt., be they elected or judiciary, have for the taxpayers of this country. It also shows their stupidity, but we all know that as well.

  7. I haven’t read the Washington constitution, but I doubt it has language that authorizes the Court to substitute its own plan for legislative authority to fund education. The voters know how to deal with a “rogue” legislature; the Court can’t do that job. The Court’s ridiculous solution is to punish the voters and taxpayers. The Governor should refuse to enforce the penalty.

  8. Clearly, the legislators do not care to do their jobs. It would probably be more effective if the law allowed the court to fine the legislators instead of the state, because the lawmakers don’t seem to care whether the state is fined or not. The situation is analogous to convicting and fining banks of wrongdoing instead of convicting and fining the bankers who actually committed the crimes.

  9. “Taxpayers picking up the tab?”

    Who do you think pays for public education? It is not like the judiciary raised taxes. Besides, the legislature can simply reduce the eventual budget expenditure for education by the amount of “fines.” It is merely a symbolic sanction.

  10. I agree Porkchop. This doesn’t make sense to impose a fine that essentially penalizes the very constituents it’s intended to help. Is this fine being paid by the legislative branch out of their own salaries or is it coming from the state coffers? They could just execute a citizen a day until they comply with the court order.

  11. What an embarrassing state of affairs for both the legislators and the judiciary. Sounds like a pissing contest of which governmental body has the “power” and not so much about education. I would be ashamed to be a part of either side.

    Really? It has came to this?

  12. If you want to punish legislators, the Court should have had all the hookers rounded up and moved elsewhere.

  13. I don’t really understand how the state (acting through its Supreme Court) fines itself (the legislature) — isn’t the Supreme Court directing the state treasury to pay itself from its own funds?

  14. Very interesting article. This case could have major implications for other state legislative bodies and their fiscal (or lack there of) responsibilities to its’ constituents/residents.

    Wondering what is going to happen with the state of Illinois and their budget issues, and whether the citizens of Illinois can file suit against the state of Illinois and its’ legislative body for not fulfilling their duties of passing a balanced budget?

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