Washington’s state government does not have the sole responsibility to pay for new school buildings under the state constitution. That’s according to a decision released by the state Supreme Court Thursday.
It comes after Wahkiakum School District filed a lawsuit in 2021, claiming the state's constitutional duty to fully fund education also applies to construction funding. The tiny rural district hasn't been able to raise local dollars to pay for essential building repairs and hasn't qualified for a key state funding program.
But the state Supreme Court rejected Wahkiakum's argument. The court said in its written opinion that the state shares only part of the responsibility to pay schools' construction costs.
Thomas Ahearne, a lawyer who worked with the school district on the case, said the ruling leaves some unanswered questions.
"It says 'hey, it's not 100% on the state to fund everything, but they still have to fund a lot,' and the Supreme Court here is not answering how much that 'lot' is," said Ahearne.
One justice wrote that existing state construction funding for schools remains "out of reach" for districts like Wahkiakum.
Meanwhile, the state's top education official wants lawmakers to take up the issue next year during the 2024 legislative session.
After the court made its ruling public, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said in a statement that his office will ask lawmakers to re-work the state’s school construction funding formula in a formal budget request later this month.