A Brief History Of McCleary vs Washington State

Carl Krueger, Project Coordinator, Policy Analysis & Research, WICHE
Oct 21, 2015 12:42:10 PM
The McCleary v. Washington State case has significantly impacted legislative activity in the state of Washington since 2012, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had violated its constitutional mandate to adequately provide for K-12 education. The original suit was filed in 2007 by the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools on behalf of Stephanie and Matthew McCleary, parents who resided in the rural Chicacum School District. The suit claimed the state was in violation of its "paramount duty"  to provide for the "ample" education of "all children residing in its borders." After a lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2010, the decision was upheld by the Washington Supreme Court in 2012 and the legislature was tasked with not only increasing appropriations for K-12 education, but developing a comprehensive funding plan by 2018. As noted in the decision and orders, measurable progress towards benchmarks are required. The Court stated: "Fundamental reforms are needed for Washington to meet its constitutional obligation to its students. Pouring more money into an outmoded system will not succeed." 

In response to the 2012 ruling, the Washington Legislature allocated more funding to K-12 education during the 2013 legislative session, increasing overall support by 11.4 percent for FY 2013-15. Despite this initial step, the court found the legislature in contempt in following the 2014 legislative session for what it deemed a lack of progress towards enacting a long-term funding plan that can take effect by the 2018 deadline. Legislators again attempted to come up with a funding proposal during the 2015 session - which included three special sessions devoted to solving the issue - but adjourned without a formal plan. This prompted the Supreme Court to impose a $100,000 a day sanction against the state until a plan is adopted which provides how all requirements will be met by the 2018 school year. In response to the sanctions, Governor Jay Inslee and legislative leaders are currently in talks. In the meantime, 19 members of the Senate Republican Majority Caucus wrote an open letter stating that the court's order violates several provisions of the state's constitution.

The situation in Washington is unique, but not without precedent. The New Jersey State Supreme Court shut down schools for eight days in 1976 in order to deal with a funding issue that was later resolved with the implementation of a state income tax. Whether or not legislators in Washington can come up with a solution before the start of the state's 2016 session remains to be seen.