The Olympian reports two law school professors are asserting that Washington’s Constitution requires the state to fully fund colleges and universities, just as it requires K-12 education to be so funded. This is absurd.
Article IX, section 1 reads: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders....” In this state a child is, by law, someone under the age of 18. The state therefore has no duty to educate anyone beyond high school. It also says the Legislature must provide a system of public schools. It defines public schools as common schools, high schools, normal schools and technical schools. It separates common schools from other kinds of schools and specifically says state funds are for common schools.
Historically a common school was one that taught reading, writing and math. While the argument offered by the professors is wrong it is useful because it warns us. Fully implementing the McCleary decision will require substantial tax increases. Fully funding higher education as well would be fiscally ruinous because the tax rates involved would drive employers out of the state. Lawsuits aimed at achieving that funding are being proposed.
The Legislature should respond to McCleary and the professors by rewriting Article IX and offering the change to voters. Education is not the paramount duty of government. It is one of a number of primary duties. Others include transportation, ecological management, public safety and economic/political stability.