State Supreme Court again rules basic education is state duty
January 10, 2012
By Tom Corrigan
“Cautiously optimistic” was the response of Issaquah School District Superintendent Steve Rasmussen to Jan. 5’s state Supreme Court ruling regarding school funding.
In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled that the Legislature is not living up to its constitutional mandate to fund basic education.
The ruling came in the so-called NEWS lawsuit, filed in 2007 and named for the coalition of school districts, teachers unions and education advocates that led the suit. The Issaquah district supported the suit through an amicus brief filed with the court.
That group is known as the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools. It was asking the court to help enforce a 1978 ruling that also said the state was not living up to its paramount duty to pay for basic kindergarten through 12th-grade education.
In the conclusion of its ruling, the court majority opinion stated that Article IX, Section 1 of the state Constitution makes it the “paramount duty of the state to amply provide for the education of all children within its borders.”
“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 opinion further states.
“This validates what we have experienced in our own local classrooms — the current state funding system does not provide an adequate or equitable educational experience for students, especially as they prepare to compete in a dynamic global economy,” Rasmussen said.
The ruling is, however, not a “windfall” for the schools, he added.
“At the very least, it provides a pretty clear standard to lawmakers about their ability to further cut K-12 services during this upcoming legislative session,” Rasmussen continued. “But it will take some serious reform before we get a funding system that comes close to covering the actual cost of a basic education in this state.”
While he said attorneys for all sides still are going over the ruling, state Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, said the ruling seems to mean the court intends to watch the Legislature to see if it follows through with education reforms already in the works. He said funding education is something the state should have been doing right all along.
Anderson is the sponsor of a bill that would require legislators to fund basic education first, and then move on to all other matters. The legislation first was proposed four years ago, according to Anderson who said that during that time, state Democrats have put education in the same basket as other state needs, cutting it right along with other programs.
“That’s nuts,” he said, arguing that studies show investment in education ultimately leads to reductions in the amount of spending needed for social programs.
“I am supportive of our Supreme Court’s decision and believe it will be the necessary catalyst to ensure the Legislature gets serious about this critical issue,” state Rep. Jay Rodne, R-North Bend, said. “It is clear to me, and the court agrees, that our state is not adequately funding basic education. Our students and schools deserve better than this and state lawmakers must now deliver on the court’s expectations.”
The amount of funding for K-12 schools continues to drop as a percentage of the state budget, Rodne added. That percentage was 46 percent 30 years ago and now sits at 43 percent.
“Not only do we need to increase this percentage, but the Legislature must understand that other state programs do not rise to the level of importance as education,” he said.
Other state officials made similar comments.
“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,” Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a press release.
Dorn added that in 2009 he fought for legislation creating the Quality Education Council.
“The council’s charge is to make recommendations for the implementation of new definitions and funding formulas for basic education,” he continued. “The court correctly says that full implementation of the QEC process is the solution to this problem. As a leader of the QEC, I will make that happen by 2018 at the latest.”
Washington education advocates also applauded the decision.
“The decision validates what parents, students, teachers and principals have known for a very long time,” Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, a statewide education advocate group, said in prepared statement. “The state is not meeting its duty to fund the basic education every student in Washington is entitled to.”
Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.