$100,000 a day is the fine levied against the state of Washington on Thursday, August 13th by the state’s Supreme Court. Unanimously signed by the nine justices, the fine is supposed to begin immediately, with payments put into a dedicated education account.
Washington’s state’s crime? A failure to pay the cost of basic education for the state’s approximately one million student-age children. While the court noted that lawmakers have made progress towards compliance, they have fallen far short. In the past three years, they have not even managed to submit a plan for making the mandated 2018 deadline.
This isn’t the first ruling against the state in the matter. In 2012, justices found the state in violation of its constitutional fiscal responsibilities to school children. The government was ordered them to rework its funding so that it could pay for necessary reforms and programs, such as student transportation and classroom supplies. Currently, the reliance to keep schools open is heavily on the local tax levies in each county and city, which leads to huge differences between school districts.
The next scheduled session of state legislature is in mid-January, 2016. If Governor Inslee and other officials ignore the court’s order until that session, the daily penalties will cost the state over $15 million. For perspective, the annual operating budget of Washington State is approximately 14 billion, including a $300 million reserve that can be tapped in emergencies. Even so, lawmakers are considering a special session to address the issue immediately.
Even if they do wait until January, the $15 million in penalties that would accrue won’t be a drop in the bucket. Earlier this year, Washington Legislature approved a $1.3 billion ‘down payment’ towards the gap in education funding, a total that still falls billions short of what many say is needed. It certainly wasn’t enough to impress the court.