State Supreme Court: Washington's failed its public schools



Washington state just lost a lawsuit and Spokane Public Schools won, in a manner ofspeaking. The state, the Supreme Court of Washington says, still needs to fund education as is required in the state constitution.

Washington, the state constitution says, has a “paramount duty” to make“ample provision” for basic education of all children in its borders. “Ampleprovision, 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. Multipledistricts paid legal fees — including Spokane Public Schools — to the NetworkFor Excellence in Washington Schools. And in 2007 the group filed a lawsuitasking the courts to make the state live up to its paramount duty.

“No other state in the nation has a more strongly-worded constitutionalmandate that puts public education first before everything else,” says theNetwork 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 proventhat lawsuits are one of the few effective ways to move the state to makeconstitutionally required improvements in our education system.”

In 2010, King County Superior Court Judge John Ehrlich ruled the state in violationof its own constitution, pointing out the state’s funding formulas produce farless 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 changedthe overall amount of funding. Thus the state hasn’t fulfilled its paramountduty.

“They’re continuing to cut,” Anderson says.

That’s essentially what the Washington State Supreme Court said when itreleased its decision,siding with the school districts and against the state, this week. The decisionapplauded the suggested reforms — saying they’ll fix deficiencies with theschool’s system, if that is, they’re fully funded. Right now, they’re not. Forthe 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 — thinkhigher education, drug rehab or foster care — to fund it.

The Supreme Court says that it will maintain control over the case to ensurethat by 2018, the reforms are implemented and the standards are met.

“My key point on this,” says Billig, a member of the House EducationCommittee, “forget about all the legal language, forget about all the numbers. Our children deserve a first class education, and our economy depends on it.”

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