Superintendant resolute after Supreme Court loss

 

September 14, 2023



Last Thursday, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against Wahkiakum School District’s lawsuit asserting that it was the State of Washington’s responsibility to fully fund the district’s capital costs.

The basis for Wahkiakum’s argument centered on Article 9, Section 1 of the state’s own

constitution which reads “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.” The suit claimed that “ample provision” included capital costs to upgrade aging facilities, keeping students safe and ensuring they could compete with their peers in the 21st Century.

Wahkiakum Superintendent Brent Freeman shared his disappointment in a letter to his staff and greater school district community, but proclaimed that “all is not lost.” He and the district’s attorney, Tom Ahearne, were quick to point out that while the court decided that the state was not responsible for 100 percent of the funding, there was still an avenue open to them.

“As the concurring opinion in this morning’s decision pointed out, the court’s decision leavesunanswered what this less-than-100% responsibility the state must bear is, focusing onquestions such as whether other constitutional provisions require the state’s capital cost fundingunder the School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP) to be amended to be distributed ina manner that is accessible to low-income, rural districts such as Wahkiakum,” Ahearne wrote.

Currently, a community must pass a bond in order to qualify for SCAP, so far, Wahkiakum has failed to do so. There seems to be some hope that the qualifying factor might be eliminated in the future, allowing poorer districtsthat to support a bond access to the program.

Because Wahkiakum School District is not alone in dealing with aging and failing facilities, other districts throughout the state supported the lawsuit, financially and otherwise, and were awaiting the verdict, hoping it might bring relief to their communities as well.

“While disappointed that this morning’s decision leaves more work to be done for our district and the many other districts around the state that are in similar situations in terms of developing secure, fair, and equitable educational opportunities and facilities for their students, we,

Wahkiakum School District, do agree that this work must be done to provide students the 21st century education they need in today’s world,” Freeman continued. “To now sit on the sidelines would only entrench the deep chasm that currently separates the education our State provides to students in wealthier zip codes against those students in lower income zip codes like Wahkiakum.”

Freeman invited decision makers living in more fortunate areas to visit places like Wahkiakum and see for themselves the “zip code inequity” pervasive throughout the state.

“In the meantime,” he said, “we will continue to change out water buckets under leaking roofs and will make due as best we can---because that is who we are.”

 

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