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State Supreme Court says Washington not providing 'basic education'

Editor's note: the following is a press release issued by the office of the Attorney General of Washington.

The Washington State Supreme Court today issued a 7-2 decision in McCleary v. Washington, ruling that the state is not complying with its constitutional duty to “make ample provision for the basic education of all children in Washington.”

The Court recognized the Legislature had enacted “a promising reform package” in its 2009 education reform bill and indicated that legislation, if funded, “will remedy deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.”

While the Court deferred to the Legislature to determine how to meet its constitutional duty, it retained jurisdiction over the case to “facilitate progress in the state’s plan to fully implement the reforms by 2018.”

“The state appealed this case to the Supreme Court to receive clarification and direction to guide the Legislature in meeting its constitutional duty — and this decision is helpful,” McKenna said. “We’re pleased the Court continues to recognize the primary role of the Legislature in determining how to meet its constitutional duty and that the Court recognizes the Legislature’s progress in fulfilling the state’s obligation in passing its 2009 education reforms.”

The case, filed in 2007 by a coalition of Washington teachers, school districts, community groups and parents in King County Superior Court and argued before King County Superior Court in 2009, alleged Washington had not fulfilled its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education and relied too heavily on local levy funding assistance.

In February 2010, the trial judge ruled that the state did not provide ample funding for basic education, and then directed the Legislature to conduct a study to establish the cost of providing all Washington children with a basic education and to establish how it would fully fund such education with stable and dependable state sources.  The state appealed to preserve and clarify the Legislature’s authority and responsibility to determine how best to meet the state’s Constitutional duty to amply fund basic education.

The state Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s direction to the Legislature to conduct a new study establishing the cost of a basic education and similarly rejected the lower court’s direction to the Legislature to establish a new funding plan, finding that the Legislature’s implementation of recently approved education reforms satisfied the requirements to establish a plan for determining the cost of a basic education and would meet the constitutional obligation to fund basic education if adequately  funded.

The case was argued before the Washington State Supreme Court on June 28, 2011 by Senior Counsel Bill Clark.

The Legislature convenes on Jan. 9 and faces a roughly $2 billion shortfall.

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