State Supreme Court ruling sends message on education

As lawmakers started work Monday, Jan. 9, on what is to be a two-month session to close a $1.5 billion shortfall in the state budget, one pressing issue will be how to fund public schools to a level that is acceptable to citizens, educators and students.

On Jan. 5, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state is not meeting its constitutional duty to provide a basic public education to all children in Washington. Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington State 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 distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

“The state needs to behave like a leader and find a new revenue stream to fund schools,” said Mercer Island School District superintendent Gary Plano.

The ruling is a result of a lawsuit brought by the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), a statewide coalition of community groups, public school districts, education organizations and Stephanie McCleary, who is the suit’s namesake.

The suit, McCleary v. State, is named after McCleary, who filed the lawsuit in 2007 for the benefit of her two children, Kelsey and Carter, who are students in the 1,100-student Chimacum School District in Jefferson County. McCleary also works for the Chimacum district.

McCleary said it was never her intention to be in the spotlight, and the entire Chimacum district was involved, but her name ended up on the suit.

She said the suit was originally filed in 2009 in Seattle, and was appealed to the state Supreme Court last summer.

“There is money for education,” McCleary said. “Education has to quit being the pawn for the chopping block. I’m not making a judgment call, but every year it’s a struggle to make ends meet.”

She said the immediate duty of the legislature is to not make any more cuts to education in this session.

McCleary said she is not one to seek attention, and she was terrified when she testified before the Supreme Court, but her daughter, now 18, was proud of her.

“My own kids have been to the Supreme Court, and have learned that education is important,” McCleary said.

That was the highlight for her.

Tani Lindquist, the president of the Mercer Island Education Association, agrees with Plano, that the state needs to pinpoint a revenue stream specifically for education.

“The legislature needs to reform our state’s school funding structure with reliable and sufficient revenue sources,” Lindquist said. “It is time for voters to tell their legislators the Eyman tax cuts have gone too far and are hurting our kids. An investment in public school kids is an investment in the future of all Washington state families.”

Also, according to a press release from WEA president Mary Lindquist, on Jan. 12, Sen. Rodney Tom and Rep. Eric Pettigrew “chose to ignore the court’s ruling. Instead, they want to dip into the same pool of funding the court has said doesn’t measure up, and siphon off millions of dollars for charter schools.”

“On three occasions, the people of Washington have rejected charter schools at the ballot box. That’s three strikes. Charter schools are little more than an unfilled promise to our students. They simply skim off those children whose parents have the time and capability to fill out endless applications.

“As educators, WEA members are deeply committed to making sure all our students receive a quality education,” Lindquist continued.

“Sen. Tom and Rep. Pettigrew should be working on the full funding challenge presented to them last week by the state Supreme Court. The people of Washington are demanding full public education funding for their children and neighborhood schools. Charter schools are a distraction from the real debate and not a full funding solution.”


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