Fine the legislature! That's what the Washington State Supreme Court is doing, issuing a $100,000 fine for every day the legislature ignores a court order on school funding. The decision was unanimous.
Thursday's order, signed by all nine justices of the high court, ordered that the fine start immediately, and be put into a dedicated education account.The situation sounds very similar to what's going on in Arizona.
The ruling was the latest development in a long-running impasse between lawmakers and justices, who in 2012 ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education for its 1 million schoolchildren.The details are different. The biggest issue in the Washington case is that school districts are overly dependent on local taxes to fund the schools, which leads to big disparities in funding levels, district to district. Arizona's per student funding may be ridiculously low, but the pain is spread out reasonably evenly. Some of our districts figure out ways to get more money in their coffers than others, but it's nowhere near the disparity you find in some other states.
Thomas Ahearne, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the court's action "is long overdue."
"The state has known for many, many years that it's violating the constitutional rights of our public school kids," Ahearne said. "And the state has been told by the court in rulings in this case to fix it, and the state has just been dillydallying along."
Our Supreme Court should follow the example set in Washington. Start fining the legislature $100,000 a day. That would mean by the time the next legislative session starts, we'd have about $15 million socked away. It's a paltry sum that doesn't begin to cover the $300 million-plus the state owes the schools this school year alone, but it would rankle the "Rule of law" Republicans no end to see the steady drip-drip-drip of money leaving their hands by court order. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, A hundred thousand here, a hundred thousand there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money.