Enumclaw school leaders hope that Thursday's decision by the Washington State Supreme Court in a case that challenged whether the state was properly funding K-12 education might mean a reprieve from fretting about deep budget cuts for local school districts.
"Today’s decision by the Washington State Supreme Court that basic education in our state has been underfunded coupled with the direction to our Legislature to respond and act to this underfunding is very exciting news for the students and staff in the Enumclaw School District," Superintendent Mike Nelson said in an email to Patch on Thursday.
According to the Seattle Times, the ruling didn't require lawmakers to act immediately and instead deferred to existing legislation that gives the state until 2018 to rectify the shortcoming. Nonetheless, the court would monitor the Legislature's progress and retain jurisdiction over the case, the report said.
State Rep. Cathy Dahlquist (R-Enumclaw), who formerly served as president on the Enumclaw School Board, welcomed the ruling and describes it as one that "resonates with my work in the Legislature."
Dahlquist introduced House Bill 1415 this year which prioritizes basic education expenditures within the state appropriations process.
"As we grapple with the large spending gap, the court’s directive should serve as our guide to crafting a budget that prioritizes education funding before state agencies and government programs," she said in a prepared statement. "I also believe the court’s candor about follow through on education reforms passed by the Legislature, most notably House Bill 2776, will reinforce the fact that budget writers must be held accountable for the decisions they make and how education is treated in every spending plan moving forward."
Nelson also acknowledged the timing of the decision in that it "gives our legislators clear direction as they begin their session next Monday."
The Legislature in a special session late last year voted to close $480 million of the state's $2 billion budget gap, but according to this report from The Olympian, it was done so by "by lopsided and bipartisan votes."
In her statement, Dahlquist pointed out that the Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency established to lead efforts to protect and restore Puget Sound, was the subject of review on the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.
“We have spent millions on this agency since its inception in 2007, which has not outlined or achieved a single benchmark to improve the water quality in the Puget Sound," she said. "Meanwhile, the governor and majority party are all too quick to cut education funding, then tell taxpayers they can ‘buy back’ their kids’ schooling through a $500 million dollar tax increase. These budget games are irresponsible and indefensible."
For her part, she said, "I plan to continue to advocate for a sustainable budget that prioritizes education by funding it first. My hope is this court decision clarifies that education is our ‘paramount duty.’”
Back in Enumclaw, school board member Nancy Merrill had a more specific funding target in mind. "I cannot wait until funding for Full Day Kindergarten reaches us, or we get the I-728 money reinstated!"
To read the court decision, click here.
The 2012 legislative session begins Monday, Jan. 9 and is scheduled to last 60 days.