February 5, 2010

Judge rules constitution protects K-12 funding; but college students stage walkouts to protect budgets

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It’s time to stand up for education funding.

What with a judge telling the state it’s been failing in its constitutional duty to fund K-12 education, and college students and staff across rita_hibbardwebthe state walking out of the classroom to speak out against budget cuts in higher ed, it’s heady stuff.

“State funding is not ample, it is not stable, and it is not dependable,” said King County Superior Court John Erlick in his ruling that the state has failed in its duty to provide for the education of school children. He ordered the Legislature to determine the cost of a basic education, then pay for it.

That sounds simple enough, but the devil is in those details, and the formula has been evaded for 30 years, as Erlick also pointed out in his ruling. He also warned lawmakers  the state’s fiscal crisis is not a good enough reason to ignore the state constitution.

The case was brought by a coalition of parents, educators and community leaders. But the state may appeal the ruling, The Seattle Times’ Linda Shaw reported.

That was the one part of the decision that the state’s attorneys found comforting.

“He left the remedy for whatever ails the system in the Legislature’s hands, and we believe that’s where it belongs,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Clark.

But while parents were ecstatic, the joy was shared by the state’s leading educator, state superintendent of education Randy Dorn, Shaw wrote.

“It’s a great day for kids. It’s a great day for students, and I believe that we’ve had about a decade and a half of moving backward.” For starters, Dorn said, the decision means that the Legislature should refrain from making cuts in its K-12 education budget this year.

But students at the state’s public universities aren’t so confident. They’re staring down the barrel of some serious funding cuts, and they chose Thursday and today to take to the streets in protest.

More than 500 students and faculty walked out of classes and offices at Eastern Washington University on Thursday, and about 150 held a similar demonstration at Washington State University. Students at the University of Washington, Evergreen State College, Western Washington University and Central Washington University are planning protests to budget cuts and tuition hikes today.

We know education is what makes the difference. It will give our state an economic advantage. It will pull us out of a recession long term. It will provide opportunity and change lives. So why not stand up for education wherever it’s needed – for kids, adults, people in prisons, people who need retraining to re-enter the workforce. Education is the game-changer, and it’s time to change the game.

— Rita Hibbard

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