KENT - The state of Washington isn't fully paying for basic public education, a violation of its constitutional duty, a King County judge ruled Thursday in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of school districts, parents and teachers.
The decision from Superior Court Judge John Erlick came after nearly two months of testimony in the case. School districts, community leaders and others participating in the suit said the state was leaving school districts to rely on local levies, donations and PTA fundraisers to educate students.
The state disagreed, saying it does meet its constitutional duty.
Erlick acknowledged the state's efforts at reforming the way its pays for education and encouraged lawmakers to continue that. But he said he based his decision on a state Supreme Court ruling from 30 years ago which found the state must amply provide for basic education. Relying so heavily on local levies fails that standard, he said.
"The 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," the judge wrote. "This court is convinced that basic education is not being funded by a stable and dependable source of funds provided by the state."
If it holds, the decision could affect all districts throughout the state. Particularly, communities could see a shift in the amount they seek in levy dollars to fund basic education.
The amount of money districts require from local communities has gone up as state funding for basic education has gone down. Local districts, including Walla Walla Public Schools, were among the supporters of the litigation.
Walla Walla Superintendent Richard Carter said he was in support of the recent ruling.
"This is an obvious example of what we have been telling legislators for 30 years," he said in a statement. "We cannot afford any additional cuts to public education. This court ruling supports our position."
Gov. Chris Gregoire said she hoped the judge's decision would encourage lawmakers to approve the education reform bills before the Legislature this session.