In 1976, the Seattle School District sued the state of Washington for failing to provide adequate funding for education as mandated by the state constitution. That led to the Doran decision, which obliged the state legislature to abide by its constitution responsibilities. The failure of the legislature to conform to the ruling led to a second Doran decision in the 1980s, and things haven’t really changed since then.
And now the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that the state legislature is in contempt of yet another attempt to force it to meet its obligations—the 1994 McCleary ruling—to adequately fund public education (not to mention higher education). People should be surprised to learn that in this supposedly “progressive” state, there are plenty of regressive voters who expect the Republicans they put into office to do their provincial, bigoted bidding. I hold that Democrats support policies that benefit all of the people, while Republicans only support policies that benefit the few, and the education funding is a case in point.
Depending upon what numbers are used, the state of Washington ranks either 43rd or 44th out of fifty states for funding per student. The state’s per-student outlay is 80 percent of the national average, and it is currently $2,000 ($2,679 according another source) per-student behind the level mandated by the McCleary standard set 20 years ago. Worse, approximately $2.6 billion dollars has been cut from the education budget over recent years.
Yet Republicans in the legislature continue to insist that the level is funding is “adequate,” and instead of raising levels of revenue in a state that has seen continuous shortfalls in revenues over the past decade—such as by raising taxes slightly or allowing tax breaks that have done nothing for the state but expand the wallets of those receiving them—they claim that the “solution” is to find ways to cut “waste” and “invest” what money there is more “wisely.” Republicans, of course, rather mendaciously call their plan “reform,” when it is nothing of the sort; it is just a desperate way to satisfy its anti-tax, anti-government, gun-toting constituency. $10 billion has already been cut from the state budget since the Great Recession in 2008. How much more “waste” can there be without causing more pain to students and people in need?
And this doesn’t take into account that public school teachers in the state are among the lowest paid in the country. As a “last resort,” Republican lawmakers insist that additional funding can only come from cutting other public programs, again demonstrating their (and their constituency’s) absolute contempt for people other than themselves.
The state Supreme Court has not been fooled by Republican double-talk, nor has it accepted the argument that the court is overreaching its authority by telling the legislature how to do its business, which it has failed miserably at ever since two dough-faced Democrats in the state senate decided to “caucus” with the Republicans to form a “bi-partisan” majority:
But as the court has repeatedly stated, it does not wish to dictate the means by which the legislature carries out its constitutional responsibility or otherwise directly involve itself in the choices and trade-offs that are uniquely within the legislature’s purview. Rather, the court has fulfilled its constitutional role to determine whether the State to provide its detailed plan in December 2012, prior to the 2013 legislative session, and it has repeatedly emphasized that the State is engaged in an ongoing violation of its constitutional duty to K-12 children. The State, moreover, has known for decades that its funding of public education is constitutionally inadequate.. This proceeding is therefore the culmination of a long series of events, not merely the result of a single violation. In retaining jurisdiction in McCleary, the court observed that it cannot stand idly by as the legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform. McCleary. Neither can the court stand idly by while its lawful orders are disregarded. To do so would be to abdicate the court’s own duty as a coordinate and independent branch of the government.
The court has threatened the legislature with unspecified “sanctions” unless it gets its act together soon, that is to say, during the 2015 legislative session. But “contempt” is something that some Republicans have for the decision, so we shouldn’t have any undue expectations. Republican state senator Michael Baumgartner insisted that the court was “way out of its lane,” and its ruling was “a disappointing, strange and inconsequential decision,” and would not have any effect on the legislature.