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January 7, 2012

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 participate 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 as the 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 remedy 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 help facilitate 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 1."

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19
www.edlawcenter.org www.educationjustice.org

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