McCleary v. State: A landmark case for Washington schoolchildren
Faced with a long-outdated state funding system that failed to fully fund even the basic elements of a high quality 21st century education, the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools filed a lawsuit in 2007 asking the courts to order the State of Washington to live up to its paramount constitutional duty to make ample provision for the education of all Washington children. Eleven years later, the NEWS lawsuit was positively resolved when after the State finally provided billions of dollars in new funding to K-12 public schools and the State Supreme Court issued a ruling that relinquished its jurisdiction over the case.
The suit was brought on behalf of two Washington families: Matthew and Stephanie McCleary and their children, Kelsey and Carter, and Robert and Patty Venema and their children, Halie and Robbie. In the suit, NEWS sought to establish that the State was in violation of its constitutional “paramount duty” and that, in the words of the Washington State Constitution:
- “Paramount” means paramount, that public education is funded first before everything else
- “Ample” means ample, more than enough and not just what is left over
- “All” means all students, not just those living in wealthy school districts or those who are easy to teach, and
- “Education” means the knowledge and skills students need to succeed in today’s world as established in State education standards such as the Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs)
A trial in King County Superior Court in 2009 was decided in NEWS’s favor on virtually all points. The State appealed, and in January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling. The Supreme Court also took the remarkable and unprecedented step of retaining jurisdiction over the case to ensure that the Legislature met the court’s mandate for increased funding by 2018. On June 7, 2018, after the State finally provided billions of dollars in new funding to K-12 public schools, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that relinquished its jurisdiction over the case.
Today, following the Supreme Court’s statement that “actual experience will be the judge” of whether the new state funding truly is “ample” and fully funds all elements of K-12 public education, NEWS remains an active, membership-driven organization dedicated to monitoring, convening and gathering information to help evaluate “actual experience” of school districts and to continue to fight for K-12 funding.