Gavel Stock Photo 64fa0d71c7016

Supreme Court in Washington state says the state and local districts must continue to share responsibility for school construction

Sept. 7, 2023
The Wahkiakum district had argued in a lawsuit that construction funding should be the sole responsibility of the state.

The state of Washington's Supreme Court has ruled that funding for school construction is not the sole responsibility of the state.

The Seattle Times reports that the court found that the state of Washington and local school districts must continue to share the costs of basic school construction. 

The decision came in a legal challenge brought by the Wahkiakum School District. The school system, which has less than 500 students, argued that school construction costs should be considered basic education expenses, which the state is primarily responsible for covering.

Wahkiakum was asking for the court to require the state to pay for building the district's elementary, middle and high schools. The cost of doing so was estimated to be more than $50 million.

In a unanimous opinion, the court ruled that school construction expenses were not the responsibility of the state alone. [Read the court's opinion.]

Had the court ruled in the Wahkiakum district’s favor, it would have meant a dramatic shift to the state’s school funding system.

Wahkiakum has long struggled to pass construction bonds to fix its facilities.

Dozens of other districts have also found it difficult to win voter approval for bonds in recent years, and many contributed to Wahkiakum’s legal fund. Because these districts are unable to pass a bond, they are also locked out of the state’s largest program to assist school districts with construction costs.

The Wahkiakum district’s legal argument hinged on Article 9, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution, which was central to another recent school funding ruling, McCleary v. Washington.

In the McCleary case, the court ruled that the state must cover basic operating costs, and the legislature altered the funding formula to address the court decision. The amended funding system calls for the state to provide funds for essential operating expenses, and local taxes pay for extra programs and activities.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

Sponsored Recommendations