Legislature forced to fund education and meet constitutional duties
On Thursday, January 5, 2012, the State Supreme Court upheld the ruling made by King County Superior Court Judge Erlick in February 2010 that the state needed to fulfill its duty to provide Washington state school children the funding needed to ensure a proper education.
One hundred and eighty-four school districts, along with PTAs, education associations and others, which represent 86 percent of public school students, were represented in this lawsuit through an organization called NEWS, Network for Excellence in Washington Schools.
Lake Stevens School District paid $14, 818 (roughly $1 per student) to be a member of NEWS and also to be a part of this very important lawsuit. (To see all of the organizations who are members of NEWS go to http://www.waschoolexcellence.org.)
The Washington Education Association was among the first to respond to the ruling.
“Today (January 5), the Supreme Court reaffirmed what WEA (Washington Education Association) and its partners in the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) have argued for so long: Public education in Washington is woefully underfunded. And this means students and schools can no longer bear the impact of further cuts to public education funding,” Mary Lindquist, President of the Washington Education Association said.
Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn couldn’t have agreed more with the ruling.
“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,” Dorn said in a statement. “The Court could not have been clearer about this 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.’”
The timing couldn’t be better with the Legislature beginning its 2012 session this week. It’s not going to be easy though, they already have to deal with an almost $2 billion shortfall.
“The decision by the Court, coming just days before the start of the 2012 legislative session, clearly puts the responsibility for correcting the underfunding where it belongs: The state legislature,” Lindquist added. “The legislature can no longer punt on full funding for public education. The legislature needs to act immediately to remedy this injustice against our children and students.”
It’s important to note that in 1993, the State passed the Education Reform Act, which created rigorous performance-based standards for the basic education that every child in Washington is to be provided. These standards were established to ensure that students would have the knowledge and the skills to be able to compete in a democratic society in the 21st century. They also enacted an education reform bill in 2009. However, cuts to education still continued and school districts were forced to increase class sizes and cut jobs, both of which affect a child’s ability to learn.
According to NEWS: while the state mandated these new high standards, the Legislature failed to restructure the state funding system to pay the increased cost of providing students with the education necessary to meet them. Drastic budget cuts over the past two years have exacerbated state underfunding.
The biggest problem seems to be that while the legislature passes education reforms, they are not actually following the constitution and actually making sure that education is being amply funded.
“The Washington State Supreme Court today issued a 7-2 decision in McCleary v. Washington, ruling that the state is not complying with its constitutional duty to ‘make ample provision for the basic education of all children in Washington,’ Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “The Court recognized the Legislature had enacted ‘a promising reform package’ in its 2009 education reform bill and indicated that legislation, if funded, ‘will remedy deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.’”
The Supreme Court continued in its ruling stating that they would make sure that the Legislature follows the ruling enacting a time limit to get the job done.
“While the Court deferred to the Legislature to determine how to meet its constitutional duty, it retained jurisdiction over the case to ‘facilitate progress in the state’s plan to fully implement the reforms by 2018,’” McKenna said. “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.”
Dorn added, “I am also glad that the Court will continue to monitor the case and I stand ready to help the Legislature identify the elements of basic education that remain underfunded or inappropriately funded.”
Who better to help the Legislature than someone who knows what goes on in the education system throughout our state. I hope they take him up on his offer.
With class sizes in most districts, including Lake Stevens, reaching 30+ students and less money to pay teachers, kids are getting left behind when it comes to education making it harder for them to compete for jobs in a world of fast-paced changes.
My hope is that the Legislature takes this ruling seriously and starts cutting “pet projects” and unnecessary spending. I also hope that they can find a way to reign in fraud and government waste and realize that if kids receive a good education then the chances of them needing assistance in the future lessens, once again cutting costs of government spending. The state needs “to live up to its paramount constitutional duty to make ample provision for the education of all Washington children.”