August 13, 2015 / 11:34 PM / 3 years ago

Washington state fined $100,000 a day over school funding gap

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Washington’s top court on Thursday fined the state $100,000 per day for failing to put forward a plan to fully fund education from kindergarten through high school, which the court said was required by its previous orders and the state’s constitution.

The state’s Supreme Court found in 2012 that the state had failed to “amply” fund basic public education for Washington’s 1 million school children, and ordered lawmakers to come up with a plan to boost its education budget by billions of dollars over the next five years.

“Despite repeated opportunities to comply with the court’s order to provide an implementation plan, the state has not shown how it will achieve full funding of all elements of basic education by 2018,” the justices wrote in a unanimous opinion.

The court said the 2015-2017 budget makes “significant progress in some key areas,” but that the state “wholly failed” to provide a plan to address a lack of funds needed to hire the educators “necessary to actually deliver a quality education.”

The state has also not set forth a plan for how it will pay for facilities needed for smaller classes and all-day kindergarten, nor has it laid out how it would make up for a shortfall of about 4,000 teachers in the 2017 academic year for all-day kindergarten.

The 2012 decision related to a 2007 lawsuit filed by the Network for Excellence in Seattle on behalf of parents Matthew and Stephanie McCleary who argued the state was not fully funding what it costs to pay teachers, provide transport for students, and maintain buildings.

Lawmakers contend the 2015-2017 budget shows the largest increase in education funding in recent years, and that it meets the demands of the court order.

The court on Thursday ordered the state to pay $100,000 per day until lawmakers lay out a concrete plan to address shortfalls by the 2018 school year, funneling the fines to an account for “the benefit of basic education.”

The fine could amount to more than $14 million by the time the Legislature convenes in January, a fraction of the nearly $40 billion two-year operating budget.

Democratic Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement that he and legislative leaders would meet on Monday to “begin the necessary and difficult work before us,” though he stopped short of calling all lawmakers back to Olympia for a special session.

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler

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