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02-03-12: Supreme Court rules Washington needs to amply fund basic education
02-03-12: Supreme Court rules Washington needs to amply fund basic education

The state Supreme Court ruled last month that Washington is not meeting its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic public education and gave lawmakers until 2018 to implement education reforms.

The ruling upheld a King County Superior Court decision two years ago on a lawsuit brought by two Washington families and a coalition of parents, teachers, community-based organizations, and more than 75 school districts, including the Puyallup School District.

Plaintiffs contended in the lawsuit that school districts statewide have had to rely on local voter-approved school levies and other non-state resources to supplement state funding to provide basic education.

Puyallup School Board President Greg Heath declared last month’s ruling by the state’s highest court a victory for students, but added he hopes lawmakers act quickly to begin implementing long-overdue education reforms.

“The court ruling sends a powerful message to lawmakers that the state is not meeting its obligation to adequately pay for basic education,” Heath said. “But we have waited long enough. The time is now to begin making things right. Our students deserve better.”

State School Superintendent Randy Dorn said the court ruling “confirms what I have been saying for many years: education funding has not been adequate, and further cuts are out of the question.”

In their ruling, the Supreme Court justices refer to Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution, which states in part, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The ruling states the court will “retain jurisdiction of the case to help ensure progress in the state’s plan to fully implement education reforms by 2018.”

A series of reforms are outlined in an education bill approved by the Legislature in 2009.

In a majority opinion, Justice Debra Stephens 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.”

The Supreme Court justice also explained why the court will be tracking the state’s progress on this issue.

“This court cannot idly stand by as the Legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform,” she wrote. She concluded by stating that the court “intends to remain vigilant” in fulfilling the state’s constitutional responsibility under Article IX, Section 1.

See the Summary of Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary v. State Decision.