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Washington Taken to Court Over School Funding

Lawsuit to determine the scope of state's constitutional requirement to fund basic education

by Tim Walker

The education-funding lawsuit brought by the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS)against the state of Washington enters its third week in King County Court today. The lawsuit stems from language in the state’s constitution that says the state has a "paramount duty" to make "ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."

NEWS is a coalition of 70 community organizations, school districts and education associations, including the Washington Education Association (WEA).  Attorneys for the group are attempting to prove that the state is failing to live up to this constitutional duty.

The mandate is strong and it is clear,” explains NEWS President Mike Blair.  “The state must put public education first, fund it amply and ensure that all students can succeed.”

Determining what "paramount" and "ample" mean is at the heart of the legal action – the first of its kind in Washington since 1977.

NEWS contends the state never has fulfilled its constitutional obligation. Over the past three decades, the gap between what the state provides and districts' costs has only widened. When the Legislature cut billions in education funding last spring, the situation became even more dire.

"We currently rank 45th in the nation in spending per student,” says WEA President Mary Lindquist. “The legislature has let the current crisis become an excuse to continue underfunding our schools.”

Attorneys for the state counter that Washington also has a Basic Education Act that lays out how much money should go to schools, how many days students should attend, etc. These programs, they argue, have not been cut and are the real intent of the constitution – not what what education advocates believe should be, or would like to see, funded.

For the plaintiffs the lawsuit was a last resort, pursued only after years of lobbying that went nowhere.

The court’s decision isn’t expected for several months.

Vist the NEWS web site for daily trial updates.


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