The public schools enroll 1,059,000 students: 58% White, 21% Latino, 7% Asian, and 5% African American, with 46% living in poverty, and 9% learning English. The State spends $9,714 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“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.” Wash. Const., art. IX, § 1.
“The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.” Wash. Const., art. IX, § 2.
“There is hereby established the common school construction fund to be used exclusively for the purpose of financing the construction of facilities for the common schools. Wash. Const., art. IX, § 3.
"All schools maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence." Wash. Const., art. IX, § 4.
In 1978, in Seattle School District No. 1 v. State, the Washington Supreme Court held that the State constitution’s education article creates a judicially enforceable duty and a right on behalf of all resident children to have the State amply fund their education. The Court directed the Legislature to define the basic education to which students are entitled and fund it through dependable revenues. The Legislature passed the Basic Education Act to comply with the Court decision.
In the early 1980s, in Seattle II, a trial court found that the Legislature had underfunded basic education and broadened the definition to include special education and bilingual and remedial programs. The State did not appeal, and the Legislature revised the Basic Education Act to include these programs and services and to fund them.
In 2007, plaintiffs in McCleary v. State argued that the State was no longer fully funding basic education. In 2010, the trial court agreed, and the Legislature enacted a statute to phase in ample State funding of basic education by 2018. In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed and retained jurisdiction, requiring the Legislature to report annually on progress toward the 2018 deadline.
In 2015, the Court ordered the State to pay $100,000 per day into an education fund because it had failed to progress toward its own 2018 target. The Court commended the Legislature for making “significant progress in some key areas” but noted areas in which “there is far to go.”
Also in 2015, in League of Women Voters of Washington v. State, the Washington Supreme Court declared the State’s Charter School Act unconstitutional because the law required the State to fund charter schools from the common school funds. In Washington, common schools must be under the control of elected public boards and revenue and taxes for the common schools “shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.” The charter schools are not common schools because they are controlled by private boards and “devoid of local control,” the Court held.