Seattle attorney Thomas Ahearne with Foster Pepper just landed a big win for public education at the Washington State Supreme Court. We asked the insurance/government law attorney about the ruling in favor of his clients, a coalition of parents, community groups, teachers and school districts who accused the state of failing to adequately fund schools.
State lawmakers, faced with tightening budgets, have increasingly left it up to school districts to raise money through local levies.
The Jan. 5 ruling sets a 2018 deadline for compliance. Ahearne talked with us about how the state, given the dire economic forecast, can meet the court’s requirements.
“Our Supreme Court held that our constitution requires the state to ‘amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the state’s first and highest priority, before any other state programs or operations,'” says Ahearne. “So the real ‘find’ question here is whether I think it will be possible for this state’s elected officials to find the courage to live up to the oaths they took to comply with our constitution. I hope the answer is ‘yes.’
“Public education is the great equalizer in a democracy – equipping citizens from less privileged segments of our society to compete on a level playing field with those from more privileged segments. When public schools are not amply funded, however, they end up instead being the great perpetuator, by keeping the playing field anything but level.
“The seven-week trial in this case highlighted the many costs which that perpetuation imposes upon our state. I am hopeful that enough of our state’s elected officials will have the guts to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision and start to put those perpetuation days to an end.”