McCleary: Amply Funding Our Public Schools is the State's Paramount Duty

McCleary family
Carter and Stephanie McCleary speak to the media following the Supreme Court's recent hearing.

Here is WEA's 2017 Student Bill of Rights.

Compare all three major school funding plans.Supreme Court says state still failing to fully fund K-12 basic education

The Legislature still doesn’t have a plan for fully funding basic education by a 2018 deadline, the Washington Supreme Court ruled Oct. 6.

That means the court will continue to fine the state $100,000 for failing to comply with the court’s earlier order to approve a school funding plan. In its order, the court clarified that the deadline for fully funding K-12 basic education is Sept. 1, 2018.

The court’s latest ruling once again confirms the state’s failure to fully fund basic education as required by the state Constitution – which the Supreme Court originally ruled in its 2012 McCleary decision. WEA members believe quality public education is a civil right for all Washington students, regardless of where they live or their family background.

2018 is Almost Here“Again, the State has failed to offer any plan on how it would fully fund basic education through regular and dependable revenue sources, instead offering, as it had before, a laundry list of bills that were considered but not enacted,” the court wrote in its latest order.

In particular, the court criticized the state for failing to fully fund competitive and professional compensation to attract and keep quality school employees. WEA members believe maintaining local flexibility to meet student needs is essential, including the ability to negotiate locally funded pay beyond state-funded base salaries.

The court also found the Legislature isn’t fully funding the cost of reducing K-3 class sizes. In addition, voter-approved I-1351 requires the state to reduce class sizes in all grade levels, including 4-12, with extra support for high-poverty schools.

The 2016 elections and the 2017 legislative session will determine whether the state finally fulfils its paramount duty by amply funding basic education for Washington’s children.

WEA issues school funding recommendations

Over the summer, WEA and other groups submitted school funding recommendations to the state. WEA's recommendations include fully funding smaller class sizes in every grade level, increasing beginning teacher pay to $54,000 and fully funding school construction, technology and transportation. 

At its September meeting, the WEA Board of Directors voted to support the 2017 Bill of Rights for Washington's Public School Students, which is based on WEA's funding recommendations.

Other groups called for limiting educators' collective bargaining rights, moving to statewide bargaining for pay and salaries and restricting school districts' flexibility to meet their students' local needs.

In July, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn filed a lawsuit against seven school districts, seeking to end their use of levy funds to supplement educator pay (TRI). A judge has delayed the case until April. WEA opposes Dorn's lawsuit, which is a distraction from the real problem -- the state's continued failure to amply fund basic education.

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History of the McCleary school funding court case

In its January, 2012 McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to fully fund K-12 public schools as required by Article IX of the Washington Constitution:

"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex."

WA Capitol and Mount RainierIn McCleary, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to our state's 1.1 million students. The court also retained jurisdiction in the case and ordered the state to report back on its progress in complying with the court’s order.

Two years later, the court found the Legislature in contempt for its failure to establish a plan for fully funding K-12 public education by 2018. Last year, the Legislature failed to provide a plan, and the Supreme Court responded by fining the state $100,000 a day. Earlier this year, the Legislature went into special session and approved a charter school law, but failed to provide a plan for amply funding public education.

As of the most recent McCleary court hearing on Sept. 7, the state's contempt of court fines totaled approximately $40 million, enough to pay for hundreds of additional teachers and support staff. 


  • Washington's school children remain packed into overcrowded classrooms without the supplies and resources they deserve, and many students aren't getting the individual support and attention they need.
  • Teachers pay hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets for basic classroom necessities, while educator salaries and benefits lag far behind comparable professions -- and the teacher shortage worsens.
  • Parents and community groups are forced to fundraise for arts and music, and most elementary schools don't have full-time librarians, nurses or counselors.
  • Many students are stuck in shabby portable classrooms, and dozens of schools report unsafe drinking water because of lead contamination.
  • The state funds zero professional development days for most teachers, and the transportation budget relies on outdated formulas that don't reflect the true needs of our students.
  • Teacher shortages are increasing in Washington, as educators turn to other professions in the face of stagnant wages and rising costs.  

Read the court’s contempt order here.

“There’s no doubt fully funding our K-12 public schools is a monumental task, but it’s the state’s constitutional paramount duty,” WEA President Kim Mead said. “Instead of more delays and excuses, we need leadership and solutions.”

Along with dozens of local associations, school districts and other plaintiffs, WEA has been been at the forefront of the funding fight since WEA members approved a special dues assessent in 2004. The McCleary case was filed in 2007, and a superior court judget ruled in support in 2010, followed by the Supreme Court's decision in 2012.

Later this year, the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether the state is in compliance with its earlier orders. Sanctions could include shutting down the K-12 school system and overturning corporate tax breaks.

Here are links to all McCleary court decisions and reports.

For more information