Yesterday, the Washington State Supreme Court, in
McCleary v. State, held that the State is failing to meet its constitutional
duty to "make ample provision for the education of all children in Washington." Along
with the recent Colorado and New
Jersey rulings, these state courts are enforcing children's constitutional
rights to educational opportunity. And, these rights do not fall away in
difficult economic times.
Affirming the detailed and comprehensive trial
court ruling in McCleary, issued in 2010, the Washington court also declared
that "the judiciary will retain jurisdiction over the case to help ensure progress
... ." Article IX, section 1 of the Washington Constitution states, “It
is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education
of all children residing within its borders."
In the Washington Supreme Court's own words:
"...the factual and legal background of the case, and the ... number of issues
involved, cause this opinion to reach great length. We therefore summarize the
central portions of our decision:
- The judiciary has the primary responsibility for interpreting article
IX, section 1 to give it meaning and legal effect.
- The legislature has the responsibility to augment the broad educational
concepts under article IX, section 1 by providing the specific details of the
constitutionally required "education."
- Article IX, section 1 confers on children in Washington a positive
constitutional right to an amply funded education.
- The word "education" under article IX, section 1 means the basic
knowledge and skills needed to compete in today's economy and meaningfully
in this state's democracy.
- The program of basic education is not etched in constitutional
stone. The legislature has an obligation to review the basic education program
needs of students and the demands of society evolve.
- The word "ample" in article IX, section 1 provides a broad constitutional
guideline meaning fully, sufficient, and considerably more than just adequate.
- Ample funding for basic education must be accomplished by means
of dependable and regular tax sources.
- The State has not complied with its article IX, section 1 duty
to make ample provision for the education of all children in Washington.
- The legislature recently enacted a promising reform package under
ESHB 2261, 61st Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash. 2009), which if fully funded, will
deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.
- This court defers to the legislature's chosen means of discharging
its article IX, section 1 duty but retains jurisdiction over the case to
progress in the State's plan to fully implement the reforms by 2018."
The court concluded by, first, citing a school finance litigation
scholar, Professor Jim Ryan, U.Va. Law, who wrote that success
depends on "continued vigilance on
the part of courts" and, then, stating, "This court intends to remain vigilant
in fulfilling the State's constitutional responsibility under article IX, section