K-12 public schools in Washington enroll over 1 million students, with 38% in poverty, 8% learning English, 32% minorities, and annual expenditures of over $9 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court ruled, in McCleary v. State, that the State was not meeting its constitutional duty to amply provide for the education of its children. After a similar ruling in 1978, the legislature revised the state school funding system and increased funding.
In early 2012, the state supreme court, in McCleary, declared the state school funding system unconstitutional, finding that “the State has not complied with its duty to make ample provision for the education of all children in Washington.” The court retained jurisdiction to “facilitate progress in the State’s plan to fully implement” needed reforms.
In 1978, in Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. State, the Washington Supreme Court found that the state constitution’s education article created a judicially enforceable affirmative duty, and a right on behalf of all resident children to have the state make ample provision for their education. The court directed the state legislature to, within parameters the court laid out, define the “basic education” to which students are entitled, and required the state to fund a basic education by means of dependable and regular revenue sources.
In 1977, the legislature, responding to the lower court's decision in Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, passed the Basic Education Act, under which the state assumed the responsibility for fully funding basic education and substantially increased state funding.
In a lawsuit in the early 1980's, known as Seattle II, the trial court concluded that the legislature had underfinanced basic education in violation of the state constitution. The court broadened the definition of "basic education" to include special education, bilingual, and remedial programs. The state did not appeal the decision and the legislature revised the Basic Education Act to include these programs.
In Federal Way Sch. Dist. v. State, filed in 2006, plaintiffs alleged that the state funding system was unconstitutional because it set funding levels with no educational justification, and thereby perpetuated inequities. In 2009, on a summary judgment motion, the Washington Supreme Court held that the state constitution does not require uniform funding and the plaintiff school district had not shown it was not amply funded.
In 2007, plaintiffs filed McCleary v. State, arguing that although the state has developed standards for a constitutional “basic education,” it is not fully funding that education. After a trial on the merits, the superior court held, in 2010, that the state funding system was unconstitutional because it neither determined the cost of nor provided the resources needed for a basic education for all children in the state. The court ordered the state to fund a constitutionally adequate education, using stable and dependable state sources. In response, the legislature enacted “a promising reform package,” and in early 2012, the state supreme court affirmed the superior court ruling.
"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex."Wash. Const., art. IX, § 1.
"The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established." Wash. Const., art. IX, § 2.
In Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. State, the Washington State Supreme Court held that "Const. art. 9, § 1 does not merely seek to broadly declare policy, explain goals, or designate objectives to be accomplished. It is declarative of a constitutionally imposed duty." 585 P.2d 71, 85 (1978). It further found this duty to be mandatory and judicially enforceable. Id. at 86-88.
The court further stated that:
"By imposing upon the State a paramount duty to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within the State's borders, the constitution has created a "duty" that is supreme, preeminent or dominant. Flowing from this constitutionally imposed "duty" is its jural correlative, a correspondent "right" permitting control of another's conduct. Therefore, all children residing within the borders of the State possess a "right," arising from the constitutionally imposed "duty" of the State, to have the State make ample provision for their education. Further, since the "duty" is characterized as paramount the correlative "right" has equal stature." Id. at 91.
The court clarified the scope of the state’s duty, explaining that,
"the State's constitutional duty goes beyond mere reading, writing and arithmetic. It also embraces broad educational opportunities needed in the contemporary setting to equip our children for their role as citizens and as potential competitors in today's market as well as in the marketplace of ideas. Education plays a critical role in a free society. It must prepare our children to participate intelligently and effectively in our open political system to ensure that system's survival. It must prepare them to exercise their First Amendment freedoms both as sources and receivers of information; and, it must prepare them to be able to inquire, to study, to evaluate and to gain maturity and understanding. The constitutional right to have the State "make ample provision for the education of all [resident] children" would be hollow indeed if the possessor of the right could not compete adequately in our open political system, in the labor market, or in the marketplace of ideas." Id. at 94-95 (internal citations omitted).
The court noted that it did not "deal with the above mentioned educational concepts as fully definitive of the State's paramount duty." Rather, it held that "they constitute broad guidelines and that the effective teaching and opportunities for learning these essential skills make up the minimum of the education that is constitutionally required." Id. at 95.
The court then stated that "the broad guidelines which we have provided do not contemplate that the State must furnish "total education" in the sense of all knowledge or the offering of all programs, subjects, or services which are attractive but only tangentially related to the central thrust of our guidelines. Specifically, then, we shall refer to the Legislature's obligation as one to provide "basic education" through a basic program of education as distinguished from total "education" or all other "educational" programs, subjects, or services which might be offered." Id.
Finally, the court concluded that "the State also has an affirmative paramount duty to make ample provision for funding the "basic education" or basic program of education defined. This funding must be accomplished by means of dependable and regular tax sources and cannot be dependent on special excess levies." Id. at 96.
In Federal Way Sch. Dist. No. 210 v. State, the court held that the "uniformity" provision requires uniformity in the educational program, but not uniformity in funding.
In its McCleary v. State ruling in 2012, the supreme court reviewed and affirmed its interpretation of the constitution’s education article in Seattle. In its own summary, the court wrote that:
“● 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 current substantive content of the requisite knowledge and skills for McCleary, et ux., et al. v. State of Washington, 84362-7 “education” comes from three sources: the broad educational concepts outlined in Seattle School District, the four learning goals in Engrossed Substitute House Bill (ESHB) 1209, 53d Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash. 1993), and the State’s essential academic learning requirements (EALRs).
● The “education” required under article IX, section 1 consists of the opportunity to obtain the knowledge and skills described in Seattle School District, ESHB 1209, and the EALRs. It does not reflect a right to a guaranteed educational outcome.
● 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.” McCleary v. State, No. 84362-7 (Jan. 5, 2012)
The McCleary plaintiffs alleged that missing kindergarten readiness programs evidence the state’s educational failures in violation of the state constitution. But, the trial court did not rule on this issue. While the supreme court found that “fewer than 50 percent of children entered kindergarten ready to learn,” the court did not order preschool as part of the remedy for the State’s constitutional violation.
Washington operates the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), which is targeted primarily to low-income 4-year-olds. ECEAP is rated an exceptionally high 9 out of 10 on the established quality indicators, but served only 7% of 4-year-olds in the 2008-2009 school year.
Washington recognizes that "what happens in the earliest years makes a critical difference in children's readiness to succeed in school and life."
ECEAP is administered by the Department of Early Learning. Both public and private nonsectarian pre-K providers are eligible to receive funding under ECEAP. All providers must apply through a grant process.
ECEAP is offered in both public and private settings, including educational service districts, public school districts, and nonprofit organizations. The initiative primarily serves 4-year-olds from families at or below 110 percent of the federal poverty level. Up to 10% of slots may be filled with children whose families are over the income if there are developmental and environmental risk factors present. Enrollment is also available to some 3-year-olds who meet other risk factors. Starting in the 2010-2011 school year, children who qualify for special education due to a disability will be eligible for ECEAP, regardless of the family’s income level.
A number of service delivery models are allowed, however, all models contemplated in the ECEAP program must provide a minimum number of program hours: a minimum of 240 hours of child direct services over 30 weeks with at 2 ½ hours per class session.
The program is funded primarily by appropriations from the legislature. The amount of state funding is completely discretionary, as the ECEAP statute makes clear that "[the preschool] program is not a part of the basic program of education which must be fully funded by the legislature under [the constitution]."
Accordingly, the Department is encouraged to locate private and federal funding sources. The state provides a minimum amount per child.
Providers are not permitted to charge families for services.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) Washington served only 7% of all 4-year-olds and 2% of all 3-year-olds in its state pre-K program in 2009-2010.
The annual NIEER analysis rates the ECEAP program an exceptionally high 9 out of 10.
The program has a limited class size, an appropriate student to teacher ratio, and a screening and referral service. In addition, ECEAP provides at least one meal a day to its students and has monitoring and site visit program.
Assistant teachers are required to have an associate's degree or a Child Development Associate credential and teachers must have specialized pre-K training. However, teachers are not required to have a Bachelor’s degree, failing only this NIEER benchmark.
Washington is conducting a longitudinal study of participants in the ECEAP program. The Department is charged with preparing an annual report to the governor and legislature reporting the yearly findings of the study, including information on the level of performance of the children in the program as compared to non-participants in such areas as placement in special education and remedial programs.
In addition, each program participating in ECEAP must conduct a yearly program self-assessment, with a more detailed review conducted every 4 years.