Education and Budget Creep

Herb Dempsey, Pat Roberts-Dempsey

In this year's trip to the market, the Washington state legislature is faced with a significant challenge. To understand that challenge we must first fall back to the state constitution where the "founding fathers" sought to explain the reason for wanting to create a state and be allowed to share in the tax money that Washington DC had previously claimed, when what was to become Washington state was clearly an uncontested part of the United States. As a part of the explanation, they included in their constitution of the state of Washington our forebears thought that a fundamental of the duties of the new state would be education. Specifically, ARTICLE IX – EDUCATION: SECTION 1 PREAMBLE. “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

This idea was funded, among other sources by setting aside large amounts of property and using the income from those “school lands” as a revenue source.  As other shopping trips led to new yearly challenges, the responsibility (and the revenues) shifted and the share of the budget slipped from education to other large, and heavily lobbied, lines of the budget.  The people started to ask: What is it that the state should be paying for. And in September of 1978 the definition of “education” and the notion of budget intersected in court in what was called the Doran Decision when the Seattle School District (and others) sued the state for money based on the words of the Washington State Constitution.

Many opinions have emerged on how Washington should meet its constitutionally guaranteed obligations.  Now the legislature is wrestling with yet another decision and “McCleary” and “Erlick” appear in the vocabulary.

An excellent summary of history to this point is found in Tom Chambers’ blog.

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