Understand the consequences of underfunded K-12 students

The Role of Lawsuits In Policy

Funding Washington Schools

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The Role of Lawsuits in Policy

Throughout state history, lawsuits with their judicial decisions have often, if not predominately, been a central catalyst to change.

The State Constitution and School Funding in Washington: What Policy-Makers Need to Know

The current lawsuit by the Federal Way School District is a good example. They are sued the state over the fairness, equity and pragmatism of teacher compensation rates. The NEWS suit, the Special Education suit, etc.

Jan. 26 2010: Judge Erlick informed NEWS and the State that he will now present his ruling at 10 a.m. on Thu, Feb. 4, in his courtroom in Kent, instead delaying until February 23, on Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) Trial case that the State has failed to comply with its constitutional mandate - Seattle Time article.

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The following is sourced from: 2008 Citizen’s Guide to K-12 Finance

How has the Legislature implemented the court rulings?

In order to carry out its constitutional responsibility, the Legislature passed the Basic Education Act of 1977 (BEA), which defined a “basic education” by establishing goals, minimum program hours, teacher contact hours, and a mix of course offerings for a school district to provide. Currently, at least some portion of six programs (general apportionment; the special education program for students with disabilities; some pupil transportation; the Learning Assistance Program for remediation assistance; the Transitional Bilingual Education program; and educational programs in juvenile detention centers and state institutions) fall within the Legislature’s definition of basic education.

General Apportionment - Foundational state funding to school districts is provided through the General Apportionment formula. Every enrolled K-12 student generates state funding under the General Apportionment formula. While the amount each school district receives varies based on certain characteristics, such as teacher experience and historical salary levels, the statewide allocations through the General Apportionment formula is projected at approximately $4,899 per student in the 2007-08 school year.

Special Education - The current state funding formula for Special Education, which was implemented in 1995, is based on the additional “excess costs” of educating students receiving special education services. The amount is provided for three categories of students. For birth through 5 year olds, the special education allocation is 115 percent of the district’s average per student General Apportionment allocation. For birth through 2 year olds, districts have the option of offering special education programs for this age group whereas for children age 3 though 5, the school district is required to provide services to this group. For 5 to 21 year olds, the state Special Education allocation is 93 percent of the district’s average per student General Apportionment allocation. In addition to the per student allocation, the special education funding structure includes a safety net process for districts that can demonstrate extraordinary special education program costs beyond state and federal resources. For the 2007-08 school year, the statewide average allocation per birth through 5 year old special education student is projected at $5,388 and the statewide average allocation per 5 to 21 year old special education student is projected at $4,362 per year. For 5 to 21 year olds, this amount is in addition to the General Apportionment allocations described above.

Pupil Transportation - The Student Transportation Funding Formula provides allocations to districts based on the number of students transported and the distances between route stops and schools. Districts receive a state allocation for trips to and from home and school beyond one mile in school buses, passes or tokens used on local transit systems, shuttles between learning centers for instruction mandated by statute, and in-lieu payments made to parents or guardians. Additionally, the formula includes an allocation for K-5 students living within one mile of their school. The state does not provide funding for field trips, extracurricular trips, extended school day take-home trips, or after-school activity take-home trips. The formula also includes an allocation for reimbursing districts for purchasing school buses. The current allocation is approximately $46 per weighted student mile in the 2007-08 school year.

Learning Assistance Program - The Learning Assistance Program (LAP) provides remediation assistance to students functioning below grade level in reading, math and language arts. Based on changes in 2004 and 2005, districts receive LAP allocations based on students in poverty as measured by eligibility for free or reduced price lunch rather than a combination of poverty and test scores. In the 2007-08 school year, the current LAP allocation is approximately $228 per eligible student.

Transitional Bilingual Education – The statewide Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program (TBIP) was created by the Washington State Legislature in 1979. State TBIP funding supports school staff and training intended to teach English to students in the public K–12 school system. The current allocation is approximately $858 per TBIP student in the 2007-08 school year.

Institutional Education Programs - The state funds a 220-day educational program for children in certain institutions. Institutional education moneys are allocated to the school districts, educational service districts, or others that provide the educational programs. While the amounts vary based on the type and size of program, the current institutional education allocation is projected to be approximately $10,829 per student in the 2007-08 school year.

The Legislature also funds a variety of programs and activities outside of its definition of basic education. The chart below reflects the funding for the 2007-09 biennium (fiscal years 2008 and 2009) for the six programs currently defined as “basic education” as well as the funding for other K-12 programs and activities funded by the state.

Source: 2008 Citizen’s Guide to K-12 Finance prepared by staff of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Committee with staff of the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program (LEAP) Committee.


An Open Letter from Bellevue Superintendent Mike Riles—January 2007

Bellevue Joins Lawsuit against State of Washington

On Thursday, January 11, 2007 Bellevue joined twelve other school districts, twelve other teachers associations, two families, and the organizations listed on the home page in a lawsuit against the State of Washington. Superintendent Mike Riley provides the following explanation of this lawsuit:

The purpose of the lawsuit is to secure adequate and stable funding for the education of all kids in Washington. Although the State's Constitution proclaims that it is the "paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders," Washington remains near the bottom in the United States in dollars per student (adjusted for cost of living), class size, chance for college, and other important measures. Our idealism for the kind of society we want to create has been overtaken by our unwillingness to take responsibility - to pay the price - for the kind of education of our children require to create and lead that society.

When I moved to Washington eleven years ago, I was surprised that such a progressive, forward-thinking state could be so out-of-step on education funding. The Board of Directors, BEA, and community leaders quickly gave me a history lesson, detailing years and years of broken promises about "fully funding" education. On the other hand, there were over time many signs of hope: many people, including some of our excellent local legislators, who were genuinely committed to setting things right; occasional but, unfortunately, typically temporary boosts in funding; two significant funding initiatives passed by Washington citizens; and the implementation of some creative and effective special efforts. Despite these highlights, our record for education funding remains abysmal. Prudent people turn to litigation only when they have traveled every other road. The representatives of the organizations in our lawsuit coalition are reasonable people who have invested years trying to improve funding. They all agree this is our last resort.

Governor Gregoire's budget proposal is justly receiving accolades for the clear signals it sends that she is determined to change our long and embarrassing history of under-funding schools. Her bold thinking, her willingness to courageously take the hits that come with increasing funding, and her passionate commitment to kids and schools are inspiring. Because of the Governor's big step forward, I have been asked by many, "Is this the right time to sue?"

Tough question, one that we have agonized over. In response, let me offer a few thoughts.

First, when the Governor's budget was released, the media also featured comments like these from legislators.

· Her speech [is] an expensive laundry list of proposals.

· Her spending [will] cut too deeply into the state's projected $1.9 billion surplus.

· That was a very expensive speech, a classic speech from a big-government liberal.

The words serve as a brisk slap in the face, a reminder that no single person - not even a Governor - can bring about significant change and maintain progress over time without support from the legislature, from citizens, and, ultimately, from the force of law.

Second, consider these words from Washington's Governor. "Our Constitution stipulates that it is the 'paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children.' It does not equivocate or limit this duty. We have already delayed too long in assuming our legitimate responsibility. Full funding of K - 12 is mandated by the courts. We should do it now." The Governor in question is Dixie Lee Ray and she issued this impassioned plea in her State of the State address in 1979. Clearly, good intentions - no matter how genuine, forceful, and well reasoned - cannot guarantee the type of change we need.

Third, let us all remember Initiative 728, the "Class Size Initiative." Seventy-two percent of Washington voters approved the measure, and it did indeed produce a down payment on reducing class sizes, class sizes that at the time were the third worst in the nation. But a couple of years later when money got tight, the legislature suspended the increases to 728 funding and the reduction in class sizes ground to a halt. Here's the lesson: Even if this legislative session provides the greatest education funding increase we have seen in decades, we will not have a solution to our funding crisis until the Constitutional imperative of "ample provision" is defined by the legislature and a stable source of funding is identified and provided.

Our lawsuit asks the court do the following:

· Issue a court order enforcing Article IX, the "paramount duty"article, of the State Constitution.

· Affirm that "paramount" means education is the State's highestpriority.

· Affirm that "ample" means full and complete funding.

· Affirm that "all" means every child in the state.

· Require the legislature to determine how much it actually coststo meet its obligation.

· Require the legislature to provide plans to fund that cost withdependable, stable resources.

In preparing for this suit, we have studied the experiences of those who filed similar actions in other states, and we have learned we are entering a long and arduous process. We will not see a significant increase in funding as a result of our legal action for many years - if at all. So in addition to asking if this is the right time, some might ask if a lawsuit is even worth the effort.

Knowing what I now know, using my own eleven years of experience lobbying for increased education funding as a guide, I acknowledge this is the wrong time to file this suit. The right time was eleven years ago.


Mike Riley

Superintendent Bellevue School District