Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

A Judicial Win for the Children of Washington State

Michael Ragan's picture

Editor’s Note: Our guest blogger today is Michael Ragan, Vice President of the Washington Education Association and Chair of the Washington Learning First Alliance.

January 5th, 2012, was a momentous day for public education in Washington State.  That was the day the Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld the McCleary trial court’s decision that the State is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to amply fund public education.

Article IX, section 1 of our constitution states that “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…”  Without dissent, the Supreme Court declared in the written opinion that paramount duty means this mandate is the State’s first and highest priority, before any other; that ample provision means considerably more than adequate; that all children means no child is excluded; and that education means the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in our democracy.  The high court also completely rejected all of the State’s excuses, even the State’s claim that a financial crisis can justify education funding cuts. The State did not dispute any of the trial court findings on the importance of education to our democracy, and the Supreme Court declared that children in Washington have a constitutional right to an amply funded education.

As part of its ruling, the court used dates and assurances promised in statute by the legislature, to create a timeline for the State’s full compliance with its paramount constitutional duty to amply fund the State’s public schools. The State government in Olympia has until 2018 to achieve full compliance with this constitutional mandate. The question that confronts us now is whether or not our elected officials will comply with the oath they took to uphold our constitution.

Faced with the historical evidence regarding legislative lack of timely compliance with previous court decisions, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of retaining jurisdiction over the McCleary case in order to hold the State accountable to comply. The means by which the Court will monitor and enforce the progress of the legislature will be decided at future hearings of the Court.

The immediate effect of this historical ruling is that the legislature has retreated from public commitments of additional cuts to education funding in the current legislative session. As the Court forces the State to comply with the 2018 deadline promised by the legislature, the more long lasting effect will be to, finally, equip all of our State’s upcoming voters and workers with the ample education that Article IX, section 1 promises them, so they can successfully compete in today’s labor markets and meaningfully engage in our ever increasingly complex democracy.

A full copy of the Supreme Court decision and the trial court ruling it affirmed are at http://www.waschoolexcellence.org/

Image: By Unknown (http://mgallolaw.com/gavel.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons