State must fund basic education, says judge

Heather McKimmie
Staff Attorney

Funding lawsuit a victory; impact uncertain

On February 4, 2010, a superior court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a landmark school funding lawsuit, McLeary v. Washington.  The court ruled the State was in violation of its constitutionally mandated “paramount duty” to amply provide for the education of all children in Washington State.  The court ordered the State to determine the actual costs of providing all children with the knowledge and skills set forth in the State’s high academic standards, and to fully fund that actual cost with stable and dependable State sources.

The lawsuit was brought by the McCleary family of Jefferson County, the Venema family of Snohomish County, and the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), a coalition that includes DRW and more than 75 school districts, statewide civic organizations, community groups, education associations, parents and teachers.  This ruling impacts constituents of DRW because as funding for all education increases, the amount of money available for special education also increases.

Judge Erlick ruled that the word “paramount” in Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington Constitution means “preeminent, supreme and more important than all others” and that funding K-12 education is “the State’s first and highest priority before any other State programs or operations.”  The court’s ruling called on the Legislature to “proceed with real and measurable progress” in determining the costs of providing for the education of students and to establish a stable, dependable funding source to pay those costs. 

It remains to be seen whether the State will appeal this decision or how long it will take the Legislature to begin implementation.  Several members of Washington’s Legislature have already requested the State not appeal the decision in the hope that the savings in legal fees can be applied and focused on correcting the State’s educational funding problem.

For more information

See more information about the NEWS Coalition and the McCleary case, including the full text of Judge Erlick’s decision and the letter from members of the Legislature.

See the letter signed by members of the House of Representatives, requesting the Governor not to appeal.