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State high court confirms lower court: funding for basic education is deficient

  • Written by Don Mann
It seemed like a no-brainer, but it remains to be seen where it goes from here.

The Washington State Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision Thursday in McCleary v. Washington to uphold a King County Court’s 2010 ruling that the state is not complying with its constitutional duty “to make ample provision for the basic education of all children in Washington.”

In authoring her opinion Justice Debra L. Stephens recognized the Legislature had enacted “a promising reform package” in its 2009 education reform bill and indicated that legislation, if fully funded, “will remedy deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.”

She referred to Article IX, section 1 of state House of Representatives bill 226I, passed in 2009, which confirms children in Washington a constitutional right to an “amply funded” education.

The word “ample,” she continued, meant “fully, sufficient, and considerably more than adequate.” She added ample funding for basic education must be accomplished by means of dependable and regular tax sources.

School districts statewide –the reality is – have long been using local levy dollars just to make ends meet, resulting in an undue burden on property owners.

Washington Education Association (WEA) President Mary Lindquist was mildly pleased with the decision but said the ball was now in the state Legislature’s court.

“Today the Supreme Court reaffirmed what WEA and its partners in the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) have argued for so long: Public education is woefully underfunded. And this means students and schools can no longer bear the impact of further cuts to public education funding.”

The Legislature convenes on Jan. 9 for a 60-day session and faces a nearly billion dollar state budget shortfall.

Lindquist said the decision clearly puts the responsibility for correcting the underfunding where it belongs: the state Legislature.

“The Legislature can no longer punt on full funding for public education and needs to act immediately to remedy this injustice to our children and students.”

State Superintendent of Schools Randy Dorn said in a statement: “The ruling confirms what I have been saying for many years: education funding has not been adequate and further cuts are out of the question. The Court could not have been clearer when it wrote ‘The state has failed to meet its duty under Article IX, section 1 by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that falls short of the actual costs of the basic education program.’ ”

Dorn thanked the court for issuing its ruling before the start of the next legislative session, citing its understanding that the issue of public education is too important to have waited until the end of another session.

Northshore School District Superintendent Larry Francois was asked what it all means from a local perspective. “Those of us in school districts have known for way too long that state funding is insufficient to pay for a basic education,” he said. “I’m deeply satisfied that the court saw it the same way. Fixing what the state Supreme Court now has confirmed is broken remains the job of the Legislature. We’ll continue to reach out to our legislators to help them understand our challenges and needs while being mindful of the continued economic challenges facing our state. I hope today’s ruling is an important first step in a multi-year journey to address basic education funding.”

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