Our state's lawmakers are failing our children.
The Washington Supreme Court has made that much clear with its recent ruling determining that the state is failing its constitutional duty to amply provide for basic public education.
But most of us already knew that.
Our state's budget crisis has pushed lawmakers to make tough decisions to balance the budget. They are once again in the midst of that process in Olympia. But the Legislature must now take heed as it eyes cuts to state education.
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Granted, education is a big piece of our state's budget pie. Spending on public schools burned through nearly 44 percent of the state's general fund in the 2009-11 biennium.
But that's as it should be. Education is the cornerstone of our state's future, and we can't afford to slight our children. Our state Constitution describes it as the Legislature's "paramount duty." But that hasn't stopped lawmakers from circling it like vultures.
"The court cannot idly stand by as the Legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform," wrote Justice Debra Stephens in the majority opinion.
And the court was clear that any future cuts will be carefully watched. Reductions must be for educational reasons, not because money is tight.
A coalition of parents, school districts, teachers and others had brought the suit against the state. The group's attorney said the court ruling clearly makes education the top priority for lawmakers above all other obligations.
It's also clear that they're failing to meet that primary duty.
On the heels of the court's decision came a report by the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, showing our state is failing in higher education.
State budget cuts to our colleges and universities have created a convoluted system that does not produce nearly enough bachelor's degrees to meet workforce demand, forcing employers to go out of state or out of the country for qualified employees.
Researchers determined that only 40 percent of students who start ninth grade enter college on time, putting Washington behind most other states. One-fourth of adults in the state have not earned even a high school diploma.
Gov. Chris Gregoire was part of a committee that also has recommended a new higher-education arm that would coordinate K-12 and postsecondary education.
The new agency would take the place of the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which has been discontinued by the Legislature.
For many in higher education, the Penn study affirmed what they already knew. But they also say budget cuts continue to chip away at an already weakened system, which does not bode well for solving the problem of too few college graduates among our children.
Budget cuts are not the answer. We are only hurting ourselves by weakening our education system.
The court showed that debating education reform while cutting spending is not acceptable.
But we can't solely blame the lawmakers for failing to implement reforms. The Washington Education Association has used its political clout to block changes that might improve schools.
Gregoire says the court's finding is further support for her proposal for a half-cent sales tax increase.
We know these are tough times and there is no more fat in the budget. Cuts are going to hurt. But the education system needs to be protected.
And this time the state Supreme Court will be watching. Lip service on education reform from our Legislature no longer will be acceptable. Action will be required.