Wash. SC: State not providing enough funds for education

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jan 6, 2012



OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline) - The Washington Supreme Court this week ruled that the State is not complying with its constitutional duty to "make ample provision for the basic education of all children in Washington."

The Court, in its 7-2 ruling Thursday, said the state constitution makes it the "paramount duty" of the State to "amply provide for the education of all children."

"The Legislature must develop a basic education program geared toward delivering the constitutionally required education, and it must fully fund that program through regular and dependable tax sources," Justice Debra L. Stephens wrote for the majority.

The case was filed in 2007 by a group of Washington teachers, school districts, community groups and parents in King County Superior Court.

The group alleged that the State had not fulfilled its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education and relied too heavily on local levy funding assistance.

In February 2010, the superior court ruled that the State did not provide ample funding for basic education, and directed the Legislature to conduct a study to establish the cost of providing all children in the state with a basic education and to establish how it would fully fund such education with stable and dependable state sources.

The State later appealed to preserve and clarify the Legislature's authority and responsibility.

The state's high court rejected the superior court's direction to the Legislature to conduct a new study establishing the cost of a basic education and rejected the court's direction to the Legislature to establish a new funding plan.

The Court said the Legislature's implementation of recently approved education reforms satisfied the requirements to establish a plan for determining the cost of a basic education and would meet the constitutional obligation to fund basic education if adequately funded.

The Court recognized lawmakers enacted "a promising reform package" in a 2009 education reform bill and indicated that the legislation, if funded, "will remedy deficiencies in the K-12 funding system."

"The Legislature recently enacted sweeping reforms to remedy the deficiencies in the funding system, and it is currently making progress toward phasing in those reforms," Stephens wrote.

"We defer to the Legislature's chosen means of discharging its article IX, section 1 duty, but the judiciary will retain jurisdiction over the case to help ensure progress in the State's plan to fully implement education reforms by 2018."

Attorney General Rob McKenna called the Court's decision "helpful."

"We're pleased the Court continues to recognize the primary role of the Legislature in determining how to meet its constitutional duty and that the Court recognizes the Legislature's progress in fulfilling the state's obligation in passing its 2009 education reforms," he said in a statement.

The Legislature, which convenes Monday, is facing a roughly $2 billion budget shortfall.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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