In a major ruling issued today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature has failed to fulfill the state's constitutional mandate to amply fund education. The case is McCleary v. State, No. 84362-7.
The court issued a lengthy opinion authored by Justice Debra Stephens. Justice Stephens summarized the major points of the ruling:
• 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 “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.
• 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.
In a rare move, the Supreme Court retained jurisdiction of the case and gave the Legislature a six-year deadline to implement necessary reforms.