Education funding trial cliffhanger for legislative session

12/14/2009
News
Brianna Allred Chung
DRW Legal Intern

Five hours of closing arguments concluded the trial which alleged the State has not complied with its constitutional mandate to amply provide for the education of all children.

What has been dubbed the “basic education funding lawsuit,”  McCleary, et al. v. State of Washington concluded in October in King County Superior Court. The case was brought by the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), a coalition with over 70 members, including DRW, the Washington State PTA, and several school districts throughout the state.

Lead attorney for NEWS, Tom Ahearne, argued that the State has not complied with Article IX, section 1 of the Washington State Constitution, which states that “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…”

“NEWS is asking the court to declare that the words “paramount,” “ample,” and “all” mean exactly what they say. That is, that paramount means utmost and not just important, ample does not just mean barely enough, and all does not mean most,” said Ahearne.  

NEWS seeks additional education funding from the State to ensure that it abides by these definitions. To do this, Judge John Erlick was asked to order the State 1) to determine the cost of meeting the constitutional duties for education and 2) to establish a way to fund that cost.

Assistant State Attorney General Bill Clark argued, on behalf of the State, that its constitutional duties were not in dispute. Clark said the State has worked on improving education for many years. He specifically cited HB 2261, a bill passed earlier this year to change the funding formula for education and to redefine basic education. He argued that the bill will address the problems raised by NEWS by 2018.   Clark also claimed that there is not a proven causal connection between state funding and school performance.

Erlick is not expected to make a decision until mid January, in the beginning throes of the legislative session, already besmirched with looming budget cuts.

If NEWS is successful and the court requires the State to increase funding for education, overall funding for public schools would increase. As a greater amount becomes available for education, the amount of money specifically available for special education would increase as well.

More information about the NEWS Coalition and the case can be found at: http://www.waschoolexcellence.org.

Issues: 
Education