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What constitutes basic education - and are we willing to pay for it?

by CYNTHIA WISE / KING 5 News Sr. Assignments Editor

Posted on February 4, 2010 at 4:42 PM

Policy experts, lawmakers and school officials from around the state and around the country are pouring over today's 99 page ruling by King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick regarding school funding.

I spent my lunch hour devouring the judge's ruling. The bottom line: Judge Erlick ruled that the state of Washington is not adequately funding basic education for all of its children.

At issue is the definition of the term "basic education." It is a term that is hotly debated, and is one we've discussed in this blog previously.

The judge found that the cost of equipping all children living in the state with the basic knowledge and skills mandated by Washington's minimum education standards is significantly higher than the amount of money the state provides. Even with local levies, the Judge found, school districts and parents are left to - in his words - "cobble together" sufficient funding to keep their basic education programs operational.

As we've discussed many times, the proof is in the pudding -or, in this case, WASL scores, double digit dropout rates and the significant and persistent gap in the education of lower income students and students of color compared to their more privileged counterparts - points all cited by Judge Erlick as proof the state is not adequately funding basic education.

As is stated in today's ruling, the State Supreme Court has held that Article XI, subsection 1 of the State Constitution mandates that "basic" education "goes beyond mere reading, writing and arithmetic. It also embraces broad educational opportunities needed in the contemporary setting to equip our children for their role as citizens and as potential competitors in today's market as well as in the market place of ideas. education plays a critical role in a free society. It must prepare our children to participate intelligently and effectively on our open political system to ensure that system's survival. it must prepare them to exercise their First Amendment freedoms both as sources and receivers of information; and, it must prepare them to be able to inquire, to study, to evaluate and to gain maturity and understanding. The constitutional right to have the state 'make ample provision for the education of all (resident) children' would be hollow indeed if the possessor of the right could not adequately compete in our open political system, in the labor market, or in the market place of ideas."

What is sad is that that ruling was that the Supreme Court issued that ruling thirty years ago. So, despite today's ruling, one wonders if anything will really change.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna said after the ruling, "My team will review the specifics of this complex decision with our state clients to determine the next steps." Those steps are fairly clear though. A short time after McKenna's press release came out, the Governor's office issued a statement saying, "Regardless of whether this decision is upheld..." a clear signal the state will be appealing the judge's ruling.

In the meantime, more than 15,000 students are expected to drop out of Washington schools before the last bell rings in June.