This morning the State Supreme Court released their ruling in the NEWS lawsuit. In a lower court ruling last year the judge ruled that the state was not meeting its constitutional requirement to fully fund education. The state immediately appealed and this morning was informed that they lost and must fulfill their requirement for fully finding public education. Below are excerpts from the ruling posted on the League of Education Voters blog.
“If the State’s funding formulas provide only a portion of what it actually costs a school to pay its teachers, get kids to school, and keep the lights on, then the legislature cannot maintain that it is fully funding basic education through its funding formulas. Even assuming the funding formulas represented the actual costs of the basic education program when the legislature adopted them in the 1970s, the same is simply not true today.” (Decision, page 60)
“In sum, the legislature devised a basic education program to provide the constitutionally required “education” under article IX, section 1. The program defined the resources and offerings the legislature believed were necessary to give all students an opportunity to meet state standards. Yet substantial evidence shows that state allocations have consistently fallen short of the actual cost of implementing the basic education program. By the legislature’s own terms, it has not met its duty to make ample provision for “basic education.” (Decision, page 66)
Though this is a clear win for those of us involved with the NEWS lawsuit and for supporters of public education, the ruling did not force the legislature to take specific, immediate action to correct the situation. They instead chose to maintain jurisdiction over the case and monitor the legislature’s progress to fully implement its reform package by 2018 as shown in this Seattle Times post.
Instead, the court deferred to legislation already on the books that gives the state until 2018 to provide enough funding to meet its own definition of "basic education."
"The judiciary will retain jurisdiction over the case to help ensure progress in the State's plan to fully implement education reforms by 2018," according to a near unanimous ruling. "This court intends to remain vigilant in fulfilling the State's constitutional responsibility."
Though this ruling, I would think, makes it more difficult for legislators to again cut funding in the session that will resume next week that may not be the case as seen from this comment in the Times post.
But state Rep. Reuven Carlyle said that while the ruling will influence the Legislature's work, it will not take education cuts completely off the table.
"It is a powerful signal," said Carlyle, who represents Seattle. "At the same time, from a purely fiduciary point of view, we have a $32 billion budget and we simply have no choice but to look structurally at categories including health care, human services, nursing homes, parks as well as schools and universities."
One fear that I have as the legislature prepares to convene is that this ruling will give legislators leverage to make deeper cuts in other areas and simply say the courts have tied our hands. I don’t want this to make their very difficult job of balancing the budget easier by making dramatic cuts in other services. It should instead make the need to examine a balance between more cuts and increasing revenue more urgent. Starting next week we will learn what impact this ruling will have on the process and decisions that must be made. I hope that the parties and two houses can collaborate on decisions that do not result in other agencies and social service providers pointing fingers at us or at each other.