February 10, 2010

"The paramount duty of the state"

By "The paramount duty of the state"

Author: Daniel Himebaugh

Last week, a Washington State judge ruled that Washington violated its constitution by failing to appropriate enough money to fund the state's public education system.  The court ordered the state to take two steps: (1) determine how much it will cost to provide a basic program of education, and (2) provide "stable and dependable funding" to meet those costs.

An attorney for the victors in the suit, a coalition of plaintiffs that includes parent groups, school districts, and unions, told The Seattle Times that state officials must promptly increase school funding, or risk being associated with "southern state officials after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, who spent years stalling and delaying what the court had told them the Constitution requires."

The court's decision obviously rests on the assumption that more money will equal better educational outcomes.  This assumption, however, might not be true.  State spending on public education has been increasing over the last two decades.  Today, Washington spends an average of $12,000 per pupil per year in K-12 schools, but student test scores have not improved.  And other studies from outside of Washington have shown that so-called "education adequacy" lawsuits have failed to lead to better educational results.

Attempting to fix the public education system on the notion that some amount of money will satisfy the state's duty to provide education is myopic.  While failure in public education is inexcusable, it is not unavoidable, so long as government is willing to reexamine its own inveterate philosophies on the matter.

PLF encourages innovative alternatives for all government run institutions, especially in education.  PLF participated as amicus in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, a U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld school vouchers for children in a failing public school system.  PLF also advocated the benefits of charter schools in the Florida Supreme Court in School Board of Palm Beach County v. Survivors Charter Schools, Inc.

Readers seeking to learn more about the Washington ruling can find the decision here.

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