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Washington Supreme Court decides what its ongoing monitoring of state schools funding will look like

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on July 18, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
July 18, 2012 5:33 pm

In an order released today and signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, the Washington Supreme Court will require frequent reporting by the state on the progress taken toward meeting the court’s decision in the McCleary school funding case.

After months of briefs and responses by the parties that won the case and the state’s own lawyers, the court appears to have ended up much closer to the monitoring methods proposed by those who brought the suit.

The state proposed an annual report on legislative progress toward meeting the constitutional requirement of adequate funding of public schools. But state lawyers asked the court to respect the Legislative and Executive branches as independent branches of government.

The plaintiffs, however, requested a more active role for both them and the court. They rejected the suggestion that they be bystanders and have no ongoing and official role in measuring progress. They wanted to be able to intervene and even trigger fact-finding hearings to resolve disputes between them and the state. The plaintiffs, led by Mathew and Stephanie McCleary who are the parents of school-age children, even suggested that the King County judge who issued the initial decision be allowed to serve as a monitor and stay on the job after his retirement as a special master.

Other plaintiffs were school districts and education advocacy organizations.

The court decided it would require frequent reports _ the first due in 60 days – and acknowledged that it will be difficult to measure annual progress when the state has until 2018 to meet the funding levels required by the court’s order.

“… the court’s review will focus on whether the actions taken by the legislature show real and measurable progress toward achieving full compliance (with the constitution) by 2018,” the order states. “While it is not realistic to measure the steps taken in each legislative session between 2012 and 2018 against full constitutional compliance, the State must demonstrate steady progress according to the schedule anticipated by the enactment of the program of reforms in ESHB 2261.”

That was the bill passed well before the court’s January ruling that is cited in its ruling as a sign that the Legislature is trying to fix school funding.

In addition to the first report due in two months, the court wants reports after each legislative session, after each biennial and supplemental budget is signed by the governor and “at such other times as the court may order.”

The order also gives the plaintiffs the right to file comments within 30 days of the publication of the state’s reports. Those comments will speak to the adequacy of the state’s progress.

After reviewing the state’s report and the plaintiff’s comments, the order says the court would then decide whether it needs more information via further fact finding by the trial court or a special master “or take other appropriate steps.”

Keeping jurisdiction over the case was controversial with some justices, including Madsen, saying it was inappropriate given the separation of powers. It was also rare. But the majority decided that the McCleary case was brought because an earlier Supreme Court decision from three decades ago was not followed by the state.

“This court is appropriately sensitive to the Legislature’s role in reforming and funding education, and we must proceed cautiously, ” Justice Debra Stephens wrote for the majority. “”What we have learned from experience is that this court cannot stand on the sidelines and hope the state meets its constitutional mandate to amply fund education. ”

Here is a link to an earlier post about the state’s and the plaintiff’s positions on monitoring.

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