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Friday, January 6, 2012

Washington Supreme Court Rules State Failed to Fund Education

In a major ruling issued on January 5th, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature had failed to fulfill the state's constitutional mandate to amply fund education in McCleary et al. v. State of Washington

The case began in 2007, when a statewide coalition of school districts, education organizations and community groups sued the state, arguing it had provided a clear definition of basic education yet failed to fully fund it, evidenced by local school districts’ growing reliance on levy dollars to supplement the state’s basic education funding.  Washington is not the only state where school districts have to increasingly rely on local funding sources such as local property taxes to fund education. 

In a 85 page opinion, Justice Debra Stephens wrote “[b]y the legislature’s own terms, it has not met its duty to make ample provision for ‘basic education'...This court cannot idly stand by as the legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform.”  The Supreme Court determined that the state constitution provides children a positive constitutional right to an amply funded education.  "Education" is defined  as the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.  The word “ample” provides a broad constitutional guideline meaning fully, sufficient, and considerably more than just adequate.  The Court determined that "ample funding" for basic education must be accomplished by means of dependable and regular tax sources, which the state had not accomplished.

While acknowledging that the state had adopted education funding reforms in 2009 that would, if fully funded, address these deficiencies, the Court declared it would maintain jurisdiction to oversee timely implementation of those reforms and hold the state accountable to meet its constitutional duty.


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