It took King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick 100 pages to lay out his reasoning and ruling in the legal challenge to the ways and means of state education funding.
Here is one version of the most-important 1,600 words from McCleary v. State of Washington. It’s not short, but then it’s not 100-pages either.
During the trial, the State cross-examined many of the Petitioners’ education witnesses as to whether they would prioritize education at the expense of other worthy causes and services, such as health care, nutrition services, and transportation needs. But this is not the prerogative of these witnesses – or even of the Legislature – that decision has been mandated by our State Constitution.
The word “paramount” means that the State must fully comply with its duty under Article IX, §1 as its first priority before all others. Article IX, §1 accordingly requires the Respondent State to amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the State’s first and highest priority before any other State programs or operations.
This court concludes that the word “ample” in Article IX, §1 means what it says. It means considerably more than just adequate or merely sufficient. Article IX, §1 accordingly requires the State’s provision for the education of all Washington children to be considerably more than just adequate or merely sufficient to scrape by.
This court concludes that the word “all” in Article IX, §1 means what it says. It means “every” and “each and every one of”. It encompasses each and every child since each will be a member of, and participant in, this State’s democracy, society, and economy.
Article IX, §1 accordingly requires the Respondent State to amply provide for the education of every child residing in our State – not just those children who enjoy the advantage of being born into one of the subsets of our State’s children who are more privileged, more politically popular, or more easy to teach.
The testimony from the “boots on the ground” – the district superintendents and principals – was consistent: year in and year out school districts, schools, teachers and parents have to “cobble” together sufficient funding to keep their basic education programs operational. This is further corroborated by the observation of the chair of the Quality Education Council in its recently-issued initial report to the Governor and the Legislature, as directed by ESHB 2261, that “(s)chool districts use most of their local revenues (largely levy and equalization) to hire extra staff and make up for shortfalls in transportation, operating costs, supplies, and state salary allocations. Most of these costs are clearly a state responsibility; …
In short, the Respondent State’s arithmetic equations (program “funding formulas”) produce far less than the resources actually required to amply provide for the education of all children residing within this State’s borders. The Respondent State’s arithmetic equations (program “funding formulas”) do not make ample provision for the facilities and services needed to equip all children residing in this State with the basic knowledge and skills included within the “education” mandated by Article IX, §1.
The level of resources provided to the Respondent State’s public schools, moreover, is not stable and dependable from year to year. The Respondent State does not provide its public schools stable and dependable resources to fund the actual cost of operating the State’s public schools. The Respondent State does not provide its public schools stable and dependable ample resources to equip all children with the basic knowledge and skills mandated by this State’s minimum education standards (e.g., the State’s Essential Academic Learning Requirements). The Respondent State does not provide its public schools stable and dependable ample resources to equip all children with the basic knowledge and skills included within the substantive “education” mandated by Article IX, §1.
In the years after the Supreme Court’s Seattle School District ruling against the Respondent State, the Legislature has conducted over 17 studies (not including research for specific legislation or projects) to address the school financing concerns of the State’s public schools.
Since 1990 alone, the Respondent State has also conducted over 100 K-12 education finance studies.
It would be an inappropriate role for the court, respecting separation of powers, to set the outcome standards for the State. It is the Washington Legislature that has set the academic standards for the children resident in this State. The overwhelming evidence is that the State’s students are not meeting those standards and that the State is not fully funding the programs, even currently available, to meet such standards. Nor should this court determine what level of “ample” input is needed to achieve such standards and goals – that also is the prerogative of the legislative body.
Although this court has determined that the proper burden of proof for this analysis is “preponderance of the evidence,” this court is persuaded that Petitioners have proven even the higher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In this instance, this court is left with no doubt that under the State’s current financing system the State is failing in its constitutional duty to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within the borders of this State. This court is convinced that basic education is not being funded by a stable and dependable source of funds provided by the State, but rather continues to be supplemented by local funding (through special levies and otherwise) and non-State resources.
This court cannot and should not dictate how basic education is to be delivered. By way of example, it would not be appropriate for the court to declare smaller – or larger – classroom sizes, or more or fewer computers, or the number of core education hours each student should have in order to graduate. Nor would it be appropriate for the court to dictate how such education decisions should be funded.
As noted, recent legislation has set in motion a proposed transformation of our current education system. In the final analysis, however, this court shares the same concern expressed by our Supreme Court in Seattle School District that “it is not the failure of our early legislatures that troubles the Court. Rather, the current concern is the failure of subsequent legislatures to “make ample provision for . . . education . . .” Seattle School Dist. No. 1 of King County v. State 90 Wn.2d 476, 515 (1978). Without funding, reform legislation for basic education may be an empty promise. Absent a court mandate, the residents of this State, and their children, risk another 30 years of underfunding of basic education.
This court accordingly grants Petitioner’s petition requiring Respondent State to comply with its paramount duty under our State Constitution to: (1) establish the actual cost to amply providing all Washington children with the education mandated by this court’s interpretation of Article IX, §1, and (2) establish how the Respondent State will fully fund that actual cost with stable and dependable State sources. This court must acknowledge, nonetheless, that recently-enacted legislation is intended to address these issues.
ESHB 2261 represents a comprehensive, constitutionally permissive legislative effort to reform education and purports to address the alleged liability and requested remedy issues in this case. However, ESHB 2261 does not require future legislatures – or governors – to do anything. Rather, the legislation is the expressed intent of a current legislature as to what future legislatures should or might do.
“[I]t is not the failure of our early legislatures that troubles the Court. Rather, the current concern is the failure of subsequent legislatures to “make ample provision for . . . education . . .” Seattle School Dist. No. 1, supra. The State, through its legislative and executive bodies, must fulfill their Const. Art. IX, § 1 mandate. They may choose to do so, as directed above, through its intended implementation of ESHB 2261, or otherwise.
Full funding levels for the provision of mandated basic education were not included in ESHB 2261 and thus must be addressed by the Funding Formula Technical Work Group, by the Quality Education Council, or as determined by the Legislature or its delegates.
For the foregoing reasons, the Legislature must be afforded the opportunity to exercise its proper legislative authority to comply with Article IX, § 1, and to fulfill the State’s paramount educational duty, as set forth in this decision. That said, the Legislature must proceed with real and measurable progress to the dual outcomes sought by the petitioners in this case:
(1) to establish the actual cost of amply providing all Washington children with the education mandated by this court’s interpretation of Article IX, §1, and (2) to establish how the Respondent State will fully fund that actual cost with stable and dependable State sources. “The choice and manner of financing public schools is for the Legislature.” Northshore, 84 Wn.2d, 685, 770 (1974), (Stafford, J. dissenting, and adopted, in principle, in Seattle School District I, supra;
“While the Legislature must act pursuant to the constitutional mandate to discharge its duty, the general authority to select the means of discharging that duty should be left to the Legislature.”); See Newman v. Schlarb, 184 Wash. 147, 153 (1935).
Thirty years have passed since our State Supreme Court directed the State to provide stable and dependable funding for basic education. The State has made progress toward this Constitutional obligation, but remains out of compliance. State funding is not ample, it is not stable, and it is not dependable. Local school districts continue to rely on local levies and other non-State resources to supplement state funding for a basic program of education. Recent legislation addresses, but does not resolve, the perennial underfunding of basic education.
Accordingly, the State is directed to determine the cost of amply providing for basic education and a basic program of education for all children resident in the State of Washington. The State must also comply with the Constitutional mandate to provide stable and dependable funding for such costs of basic education. Funding must be based as closely as reasonably practicable on the actual costs of providing such programs of basic education. The means of fulfilling this Constitutional mandate properly fall within the prerogative of the Legislature.