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School district wins fair funding lawsuit

By MARGO HORNER, The Mirror

The Federal Way School District won summary judgment in its fair funding lawsuit against the State of Washington.

The decision means more money for the school district.

In a court hearing Nov. 2 at the Kent Regional Justice Center, Judge Michael Heavey said that the state’s current funding system was unconstitutional because it violated the general and uniform system of schools requirement set forth in Article 9, section 2 of the state constitution.

Federal Way has consistently been funded at a lower level than neighboring school districts, argued attorney Buzz Porter, who represented the school district. There is no rational basis for the disparities, he said.

If Federal Way received the same per-student funding as the Everett School District, for example, it would have meant more than $6.5 million in additional funds for the district this year.

“This court finds that the disparate funding to school districts violates the constitution of the State of Washington because it is not general and uniform. Further, it finds that the disparate funding violates the constitutional equal protection rights of Federal Way’s teachers, students and taxpayers,” Heavey said in his published court opinion.

School district officials and school board members were joyous at the judge’s decision.

“It feels good that he ruled the way he did. Justice was done today,” said school board member Dave Larson.

“It’s really the end of an era for Federal Way schools,” Larson said. “Now we’re finally going to be treated fairly after decades of being treated unfairly.”

“We are grateful that Judge Heavey recognized the inequities in the funding system and has ordered the Legislature to fix the problem. We are confident that the state Legislature will comply with the court’s order,” said Superintendent Tom Murphy.

The decision means that the Legislature will have to create a new funding system by the end of this session.

“This will prime the pump to get them to look at the entire way we fund basic education,” Larson said. “They’re using a 1970s system to fund 21st century expectations.”

It is likely that the state will file an appeal with the State Supreme Court, said Larson, who is also an attorney. The Supreme Court could grant the state a stay, allowing the Legislature to hold off on changing the funding system until the Supreme Court decision is made.

But district officials hope the Legislature will make immediate changes, giving the district more money for next year.

“For the (2008-2009 school) year we should have more money if the legislature does the right thing,” Larson said. “They can’t ignore it.”

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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