Court fines Washington state over education funding

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Washington officials are considering a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court issued daily fines a of $100,000 until lawmakers comply with a court order to improve the way the state pays for its basic education system.
 
Thursday's order, signed by all nine justices of the high court, ordered that the fine start immediately, and be put into a dedicated education account.

The court encouraged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session, saying that if the Legislature complies with the court's previous rulings for the state to deliver a plan to fully fund education, the penalties accrued during a special session would be refunded.

Inslee and legislative leaders are set to meet Monday in Seattle discuss what next steps the state should take.

"There is much that needs to be done before a special session can be called," Inslee said in a statement. "I 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."

The ruling was the latest development in a long-running impasse between lawmakers and justices, who in 2012 ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education for its 1 million schoolchildren.

Thomas Ahearne, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the court's action "is long overdue."

"The state has known for many, many years that it's violating the constitutional rights of our public school kids," Ahearne said. "And the state has been told by the court in rulings in this case to fix it, and the state has just been dillydallying along."

The lawsuit against the state was brought by a coalition of school districts, parents, teachers and education groups — known as the McCleary case for the family named in the suit.

In its original ruling, and repeated in later follow-up rulings, the justices have told the Legislature to find a way to pay for the reforms and programs they had already adopted, including all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, student transportation and classroom supplies, and to fix the state's overreliance on local tax levies to pay for education. Relying heavily on local tax levies leads to big disparities in funding between school districts, experts say.

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