Court ruling affirms Constitution; now, Legislature must act
February 23, 2010 · Updated 1:36 PM
“Washington state is failing its children” is not a campaign slogan, not a political statement, not a platitude — this reality is now the subject of a recent Superior Court ruling declaring our state in violation of its constitutional “paramount duty” to make ample provision for the education of all students.
We urge the Legislature to follow through promptly on the court’s order to (1) determine the actual costs of providing all children with the knowledge and skills to compete in our economy and meaningfully participate in our democracy, and (2) establish a stable, reliable means to pay for it with state resources.
Although the court has not yet imposed a deadline date to finish, it did order the state to immediately make “real and measurable progress.” We believe legislators and the governor should honor the oaths of office they took to uphold our constitution today. Each day they delay is another day that they are breaking the highest law of our state. No one who got a traffic ticket today would be allowed to tell the patrol officer, “I promise to stop speeding next year or in five years or in eight years.”
Declaring that fully funding public education is “the state’s first and highest priority before any other state programs or operations,” the court ruling leaves no doubt that there must be no additional cuts to education during the current legislative session. Instead, the Legislature must take prompt action to fund education fully.
Every day we wait, children get further behind. Test scores prove that the state’s chronic underfunding of education is setting up far too many students, particularly low-income kids and children of color, for failure — not just in school but in life. To quote the court ruling: “Society will ultimately pay for these students. The state will pay for their education now or society will pay for them later through unemployment, welfare or incarceration.”
The ruling affirms that fully funding education is the state’s responsibility. No longer can school districts be forced to “scrape by,” as the court says, with local levies to make up the ever-widening gap between state funds and what it actually costs to educate students.
The court confirmed that “basic education” means the knowledge and skills students need to succeed in today’s world, meaningfully participate in our democracy and contribute to society — a definition that ensures school funding is focused on student achievement, not arbitrary calculations of whatever the Legislature feels like spending from year to year.
Lawmakers must be held accountable to follow court orders. These tight economic times are no excuse to delay. The Legislature’s constitutional duty is to fund education first and to fund it fully. The result will be better-educated citizens, a higher skilled workforce and a more robust economy for us all.
For those who believe our schools are doing well enough as they are and that it’s OK to wait until better times, consider the analogy given at trial by Nick Brossoit, superintendent of the Edmonds School District. Asked why he couldn’t be satisfied with an 80 percent school graduation rate, he replied: “If you take 100 kids on a field trip and only bring back 80, is that acceptable?”
Of course, it isn’t.
We urge the state not to appeal the court’s ruling, which would put off what the state should have been doing all along. Abide by the court’s decision — abide by the Constitution — and begin today to give our students the education our Constitution has long promised them.
Mike Blair, president of the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), the statewide coalition of more than 70 school districts and other organizations that filed the school funding lawsuit
League of Women Voters of Washington education chair
Washington State PTA executive director