Washington state just lost a lawsuit and Spokane Public Schools won, in a manner of speaking. The state, the Supreme Court of Washington says, still needs to fund education as is required in the state constitution./p>
Washington, the state constitution says, has a “paramount duty” to make “ample provision” for basic education of all children in its borders. “Ample provision, huh?” educators have been saying for years. “Paramount duty, huh?”
With the constant cuts that have slashed away at funding for basic education, school districts did more than complain: They filed a legal suit. Multiple districts paid legal fees — including Spokane Public Schools — to the Network For Excellence in Washington Schools. And in 2007 the group filed a lawsuit asking the courts to make the state live up to its paramount duty.
“No other state in the nation has a more strongly-worded constitutional mandate that puts public education first before everything else,” says the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools on its website. “For decades, legislators and governors have danced around this issue instead of solving it. … While legal action is always a last resort, history unfortunately has proven that lawsuits are one of the few effective ways to move the state to make constitutionally required improvements in our education system.”
In 2010, King County Superior Court Judge John Ehrlich ruled the state in violation of its own constitution, pointing out the state’s funding formulas produce far less than is required for basic education. In response, the state created new, more complicated and accurate funding formulas.
But, as Spokane Public School’s Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson says, while the formula for distributing funding is in place, it hasn’t changed the overall amount of funding. Thus the state hasn’t fulfilled its paramount duty.
“They’re continuing to cut,” Anderson says.
That’s essentially what the Washington State Supreme Court said when it released its decision, siding with the school districts and against the state, this week. The decision applauded the suggested reforms — saying they’ll fix deficiencies with the school’s system, if that is, they’re fully funded. Right now, they’re not. For the state to fund education more, it would have to either raise new revenue — as state Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, suggests. Or cut other services — think higher education, drug rehab or foster care — to fund it.
The Supreme Court says that it will maintain control over the case to ensure that by 2018, the reforms are implemented and the standards are met.
“My key point on this,” says Billig, a member of the House Education Committee, “forget about all the legal language, forget about all the numbers. Our children deserve a first class education, and our economy depends on it.”