The McCleary Ruling


    In January 2007, Mathew and Stephanie McCleary, Robert and Patty Venema, and a statewide coalition of community groups, school districts and educational organizations known as the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), filed a petition for declaratory judgment alleging that the State of Washington was violating Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution by failing to adequately fund the K-12 school system. The constitution says the following:

    "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 trial was heard by King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick, who rendered a decision in February 2010 that sided with the McCleary group. Judge Erlick ruled that the state must determine the cost of amply providing for basic education and a basic program of education for all children and the state must also comply with the constitutional mandate to provide stable and dependable funding for the costs of basic education.

    Supreme Court decision:

    Judge Erlick's decision was appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court, which issued its ruling on the case on January 5, 2012. The Supreme Court upheld Judge Erlick's decision and pointed out that the words "paramount duty" in the constitution mean that "the state must amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the state's first and highest priority before any other state programs or operations." The court further pointed out that the word "ample" means "considerably more than just adequate," and that "all children" means "each and every child" and that "no child is excluded." The court also said that a lack of revenue was not an excuse for not meeting the state's paramount duty.

    The court's solution:

    The Supreme Court said that it is the legislature’s responsibility to define what constitutes a basic education for the children in the state. And, it so happened, the legislature had done that very thing in 2009 when it passed a bill called ESHB 2261. So, the court ruled that in order to meet its constitutional obligation, the state would have to fully fund the requirements of ESHB 2261 by 2018 and also fully fund a bill passed in 2010 called SHB 2776, which established funding formulas for K-12 education. The court also took the unusual step of putting the legislature on notice that it will monitor their progress toward meeting its obligation.

    Do you want more information?

    Here is the Washington State Supreme Court's ruling on McCleary v. the State of Washington.

    The Network for Excellence in Washington Schools keeps track of the latest developments related to the McCleary ruling. You will find that organization's website at

    Here is more information about ESHB 2261 and about SHB 2776.