McCleary — The Washington School Funding Case — Justice Tom Chambers

Before he died in December 2013, Justice Tom Chambers made an entry in his blog about the McCleary Case.  THE STATE’S DUTY TO PAY FOR EDUCATION,  May 7, 2013.  Justice Chambers was on the bench when the court handed down it unanimous decision in McCleary v. State in 2012.  McCleary v. State, 173 Wn.2d 477 (2012), available at .

Justice Chambers’ comments give a better feel for the case, the history of school funding in Washington, and the problem faced by the court in the exercise of its retained jurisdiction in the case.

One of the difficulties for the observer of the McCleary Case and its on-going judicial history has to do with the basis upon which the court is deciding what standard the state must comply with in order to fill its duty to properly provide for education (K – 12) of the state’s children as required by the Wash. Const. art., IX, section 1.

 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.

At first blush, the McCleary observer might say the court coming up with its own ideas as to what level of funding is necessary to comply with the rule that the state is to “make ample provision for education for all children residing” in the state.  However, the court is not coming up with its own ideas for the level of funding.  It is using standards set by the legislature itself.

Justice Chambers explains present history of school funding in the legislature resulted in the enactment of the

ESHB 2261, a comprehensive approach to adopting reforms and to provide adequate funding for basic education.  The plan was to phase in funding so that basic education would be fully funded by 2018. 2009-10/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Laws/House/2261-S.SL.pdf.   But instead of funding the improvements the legislature had adopted to provide adequate funding of education in ESHB 2261, the legislature began reducing funding to schools.

Justice Chambers explains that it is not the court’s plan for funding which is being enforced, it is the legislature’s own plan as set out in ESHB 2261.

The founders used the word “ample” which has reasonably been interpreted to mean the State must adequately fund education over all other state funded programs.  Inasmuch as it was the legislature’s plan to adequately fund basic education by adopting ESHB 2261, the court is using the legislature’s own plan as a benchmark to measure progress.

No one envies the state legislature in today’s budget crisis.  But one year after the court’s decision in McCleary, the State reported to the court that it had managed to reduce the amount of budget reduction to education.   The State was still going backward, not forward in terms of funding education while still funding non-constitutionally mandated programs.  The court directed the State to provide a plan for full funding of ESHB 2261 by 2018; a plan with sufficient detail that the court could measure progress.





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