Washington State’s High Court Rules Legislature Not Doing Enough to Fund Education

The Washington State Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional responsibility to fund public education for the last three decades, according to a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court.

“By the Legislature’s own terms, it has not met its duty to make ample provision for ‘basic education,’” wrote Justice Debra Stephens in an 85-page opinion. “This court cannot idly stand by as the Legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform.”

In 2009, the Legislature passed a bill meant to reform funding formulas, HB2261, and update the 1977 Basic Education Act by 2018. In Justice Stephens’ opinion, the high court reaffirmed its jurisdiction to oversee the Legislature’s timely implementation of those changes.

“Ultimately, it is our responsibility to hold the State accountable to meet its constitutional duty,” Justice Stephens writes in the opinion. “This court intends to remain vigilant in fulfilling the State’s constitutional responsibility.”

According to the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, welcomed the ruling and called for a half-penny sales tax increase to further fund education.

“This is not about partisan politics,” Gregoire said during a press conference on Jan. 5, adding that the state sales tax hasn’t been increased since 1983. “This is about stepping up to the challenge despite the tough times and asking, ‘What does the state want to look like when we get out of this recession? Are we going to invest in our future or are we going to compromise things and set our values behind and leave people out, which is not good for them and not good for us?’”

Kirby Wilbur, the Washington State Republican Party chairman, placed the blame on Democrats, noting that the state’s governor’s office had been controlled by Democrats for the previous 27 years.

“Their failure to prioritize state spending on our kids and our future economic health is exactly why we need fresh thinking in Olympia,” Wilbur said in a press release calling the issue a “fiasco.”

Education advocates, including the Washington State Board of Education, called the high court’s ruling a “huge victory.”

Photo by Flickr | designatednaphour