Court: Washington is underfunding education

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The Washington State Supreme Court ruled January 5 that despite the state’s budget deficit, the state must increase education funding in order to come into compliance with the state constitution.

“To ensure that the legislature exercises its authority within constitutionally prescribed bounds, any reduction of programs or offerings from the basic education program must be accompanied by an educational policy rationale,” the court stated. “That is, the legislature may not eliminate an offering from the basic education program for reasons unrelated to educational policy, such as fiscal crisis or mere expediency.”

In 2007, the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, a coalition of education advocacy groups and school districts that included , filed a lawsuit targeting the state’s education funding. Multiple special education advocates, including Disability Rights Washington, joined in the lawsuit.

Reaffirming a decision from the King County Superior Court in February 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the state relies too heavily on levies, property taxes and federal funding, and is therefore failing to rely on a “dependable and regular tax source,” as is required by state law.

The court decided not to propose a remedy to increase the state’s education funding level, deferring to the state legislature to determine a solution. However, the court will retain jurisdiction over the case until 2018, the state’s timeline for increasing its education funding until its complies with the state constitution, which describes education as the state government’s “paramount duty.”

“The Supreme Court has unequivocally told the Legislature that our State Constitution leaves it no choice but to fully and amply fund public education,” said Tom Ahearne, the lead attorney for NEWS, in a news release. “The only question now is whether our legislators will voluntarily obey the oath they took to our Constitution now, or be forced to do so by the courts later.”

DisAbility Rights Washington is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.