State AG Says Wash. Education Funding Plan Fulfills McCleary Decision

Aug 1, 2017

In a filing to the state Supreme Court, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the education funding plan passed by the legislature in June fulfills the state’s constitutional duty. Ferguson is asking the high court to end the long-running McCleary lawsuit.

Ferguson said the state has now doubled K-12 education funding since 2012, when the state Supreme Court issued its decision in McCleary v. State of Washington, saying that the state was failing to fully fund basic education.

The agreement hikes the state property tax but caps the amount of money school districts can raise through local levies. In the long term, that will likely result in lower property tax bills in some parts of the state, such as Tacoma, and higher tax bills in some wealthier areas, such as Mercer Island and Bellevue.

State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, helped negotiate this latest school funding plan. She said passing the plan was an accomplishment, but it’s still unclear whether the state Supreme Court will agree the legislature has met its obligations.

“It’s a very significant increase in state funding for the public schools throughout the state,” she said. “Whether the court will think it’s providing ample, we will see.”

Rolfes said she wishes the spending plan didn’t restrict local levy dollars as much as it does. But that was a compromise worked out between the Republicans and Democrats.

The plaintiffs in the McCleary lawsuit have until Aug. 30 to submit a response to the court.

Attorney Tom Ahearne said the deal doesn’t go far enough because of the way the deal caps how much money districts can raise through local levies.

“A lot of it is a shell game,” he said. “What they’re doing is taking money away from school districts for local levies and then handing it back to school districts calling it state money.”

In a statement, officials with the Seattle school district also struck a critical note.

They said lawmakers deserve credit for their efforts, but the state still hasn’t met its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education.

The district also said legislators need to reach an agreement on a capital budget soon. They said Seattle projects aren’t in jeopardy, but other districts don’t have the money to move ahead without funds from the state.