News

FWay in lawsuit against state

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Federal Way Public Schools, along with 10 other school districts, has filed a lawsuit against the state demanding full funding of special education.

The other districts are Bellingham, Bethel, Burlington-Edison, Everett, Issaquah, Lake Washington, Mercer Island, Northshore, Riverside and Spokane.

The lawsuit was filed in Thurston County. The districts are being represented by Seattle law firm Preston Gates Ellis.

Lucy Isaki, from the state attorney general’s office, will represent Washington.

Federal Way’s School Board approved a resolution in August giving superintendent Tom Murphy the go-ahead for the lawsuit if the Legislature doesn’t approve full funding next year.

The decision to file the lawsuit before the Legislature goes into session was the plan all along so it can be a priority in January when lawmakers are gathered in Olympia, Murphy said.

Hopefully the state will agree to fully fund special education and the districts can halt the lawsuit, he said.

Pointing to the state constitution and court decisions from the late 1970s and early 1980s the state must fund basic education, the districts claim the state has been dodging its responsibility. One of the court rulings spelled out that special education is a part of basic education.

The state has been partially funding special education for several years. Districts have made up the difference with local levy dollars. The court rulings say districts shouldn’t have to dip into their purses of levy money.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, Washington’s chief education officer, said in an August interview that she understood the districts banding together to file the lawsuit, but hoped it wouldn’t happen. Calling Federal Way’s decision to join the lawsuit “a fair warning” in August, she added the districts tried other methods to get funding from the Legislature without success.

In her proposed 2005-07 budget for schools statewide, Bergeson requested a $338 million increase to basic education.

But the meaning of “fully funded” is a question state Rep. Skip Priest is considering. Priest (R-30th District) said he hopes to have more discussions with the districts about their concerns and what is considered a “necessary level of funding.”

The state’s teachers union hasn’t made a formal announcement about the lawsuit, but the Washington Education Association feels basic education funding is important and that not enough is being done by the state, said Rich Wood, a WEA spokesman. He added the statewide teachers’ union is considering filing a lawsuit for funding of basic education by the state.

Wood said one reason the union is criticizing the state’s assessment test, the WASL, as part of the requirement for high school graduation is because of the funding issue and meeting high education standards.

It’s not realistic to expect students to achieve the high standards in place if the state isn’t willing to spend the money on education, Wood said.

Paying for special education is another issue the Legislature will have to consider, and the lawsuit “raises the pressure” on adequate education funding, said state Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-30th District).

The Washington State Special Education Coalition, an organization of parents, teachers and administrators, has come out against the lawsuit. In an August letter, the organization urged the districts to not go forward, stating all K-12 basic education needs to be the subject of the lawsuit and focusing on special education will be detrimental to the students in the programs.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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