State not solely responsible for school construction, WA Supreme Court rules


The Washington Supreme Court ruled last week that the state is not constitutionally obligated to provide monies for capital construction projects to local school districts at the same level as basic education funding.

The opinion upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit originally filed in December 2021 by the Wahkiakum School District.

Based in Cathlamet, the small rural district in southwest Washington contended that the state should provide more funding to “underprivileged communities” like Wahkiakum to pay for new or modernized buildings and facilities to ensure its students receive “a 21st Century education” comparable to more-affluent districts.

The lawsuit was supported by a number of other school districts within the state which, like Wahkiakum, are considered “poor” because of low assessed property values which result in higher costs to taxpayers asked to support local levy and bond construction measures.

Washington has a “paramount duty to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders,” according to the state constitution.

But in the Sept. 7 ruling, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud wrote that the constitution treats school capital construction costs differently than funding for basic education and that local school districts must share responsibility with the state for those capital outlay expenses.

The 36-page opinion, Wahkiakum School District No. 200 v. State of Washington, was joined by seven other justices, with a concurring opinion issued by Justice Charles Johnson, who said the involved parties should now examine how much responsibility the state should bear for capital construction costs even if it is not solely responsible.

Johnson noted that a section of the constitution “creates an obligation on the part of the State to spend money generated from the common construction fund in a certain manner … and lays out sources of funding.”

The ruling also noted that state lawmakers in 2022 allocated additional monies to support the School Construction Assistance Program, including a $515,000 appropriation to Wahkiakum for facilities accessibility and security improvements.

Wahkiakum has less than 500 students in its district, and 57% of them are considered low income. In 2020, the school district proposed a $28 million bond measure to upgrade its high school, but local voters rejected it by about a 70% margin. The state does not provide matching funds for construction unless a school district receives at least 60% voter approval on a financing bond.


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