Here’s an update on education lawsuits still in play:
State Funding for K-12 Education: The Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), to which PEA belongs, sued the State of Washington for failure to meet its constitutional mandate to fully fund basic education. The seven-week trial, heard by Judge John Erlick in King County Superior Court, ended in October 2009.
In February 2010, Judge Erlick ruled that the State of Washington was in violation of its constitutionally-mandated “paramount duty” to amply provide for the education of its children. The court ordered the state to determine the actual costs of educating students and to fully fund that cost with stable and dependable state resources.
The State of Washington appealed Judge Erlick’s decision to the Washington State Supreme Court. Documents were filed and the Supreme Court heard the appeal on June 28, 2011. Right now, we’re waiting for a decision from the State Supreme Court, which could be at any time.
If the State Supreme Court upholds our victory from King County Superior Court, it’s uncertain when funding would be restored to K-12 education. Presumably, the Court would establish deadlines that would have to be met by the Legislature to bring the State into compliance with the Constitution.
Gainsharing for TRS Plans 1 and 3: Several years ago, the Legislature repealed a benefit that was included in Teachers Retirement System (TRS) Plans 1 and 3. The provision, called “gainsharing,” allowed plan members to share gains from investment earnings that exceeded a certain amount over a period of time. The legislation also lowered the retirement age for Plans 2 and 3 to age 62 without penalty, and reduced the penalties for retiring after age 55 with at least 30 years of experience.
The Legislature, however, attached a “poison pill” to the bill, which stated that if they lost a lawsuit challenging the gainsharing repeal, the early retirement provisions would immediately be revoked.
The lawsuit was filed and was heard by Judge Richard Eadie in King County Superior Court. Judge Eadie ruled that the Legislature’s repeal of the gainsharing benefit was unlawful. The lawsuit was split into two phases---one dealing with the gainsharing repeal, and the other dealing with the Legislature’s “poison pill.”
Judge Eadie ruled that the second phase (poison pill) must first be litigated before the entire case could be moved forward. There is a summary judgment motion on Phase 2 scheduled for December 16. Once Judge Eadie rules on Phase 2, it’s anticipated the entire case will be appealed. As a result, we’re at least another year away from a final decision.
Plan 1 COLA Repeal: During the last legislative session, the Legislature repealed the COLA provision in Retirement Plan 1. The COLA had been added to Plan 1 a number of years ago to address the significant loss in buying power Plan 1 retirees experienced during their retirement years. An automatic COLA kicked in after a retiree reached 66 years of age.
The removal of the COLA means that current retirees in Plan 1 had their benefits permanently frozen at last year’s level. Future retirees will have their benefits permanently frozen at the amount they receive during their first year of retirement. This means if someone retires at age 55 and lives for 30 more years, that person will receive the same dollar amount in retirement income at age 85 as he/she received at age 55.
WEA, along with the Washington Federation of State Employees, filed a lawsuit challenging the repeal in Thurston County Superior Court. Since the lawsuit is still in the preliminary stages, a hearing has not yet been set.
I-1053: Initiative 1053, sponsored by Tim Eyman, was approved by voters in November 2010. The initiative requires a 2/3 majority vote of the Legislature in order to pass any revenue increases. WEA, the League of Education Voters, several Democrats in the State House of Representatives, several teachers, school board members and parents, filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court this past summer challenging the constitutionality of I-1053.
The case is currently in the discovery phase and the hope is that it will be heard in time to have a court decision prior to the 2012 legislative session.