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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Did Washington Lawmakers Fully Fund Schools? Frustrated Justices Look For Answers

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Members of Washington's Paramount Duty coalition pose for a photo outside the Washington Supreme Court before a court hearing on the McCleary school funding case.

The Washington Legislature enacted a new state property tax this year to shift the burden of school funding off local levies. But the question before the state Supreme Court Tuesday was whether Washington lawmakers fully funded schools as required by the court .

Tom Ahearne, a lawyer for the coalition that sued the state back in 2007, told the justices the plan falls short. 

“The state has not demonstrated, not shown that the budget they passed does what this court required, by September 1, 2018 they are amply funding all, the full implementation of all 10 components,” he said.  

The lawyer for the state, Alan Copsey, countered that the plan does fully fund schools just not by 2018, as the state Supreme Court required. 

“What the legislature is saying is that ‘we are doing it all, we’ve enacted the legislation to do it all, but it takes two years to phase it in,’” he said.  

The state of Washington has been in contempt of court since 2015. The Supreme Court must now decide if the state has complied or if lawmakers need to come back next year and finish the job. 

Copsey asked the justices to find the state in compliance and stop imposing a $100,000-per-day contempt of court fine. The fine has now reached $80 million.

The plaintiffs in the McCleary case want the court to require the legislature to finish the job next year.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."