Letters to the Editor

Who really loses in ruling over education funding? | Federal Way letters

I just read the decision of the State Supreme Court whereby they overturned the trial judge’s decision in favor of Federal Way School District’s ample funding lawsuit.

I also attended the hearing when it was heard last June. Like Superintendent Tom Murphy, I too am extremely disappointed — and that is an understatement — in their decision because if justice truly had prevailed, it should have been a unanimous verdict to uphold the decision.

I agree with Murphy because I too do not understand their decision because it truly is illogical, baffling, disappointing and discouraging, as he said. The really sad thing about the whole affair: The Federal Way School District may have lost the decision, but it is the school children of our district (and others as well) that are the real losers in this case. I can relate to that firsthand as I see and work with these wonderful children on almost a daily basis as a substitute para-educator. Murphy put it very bluntly when he said “the children of Federal Way that have suffered with unequal treatment (thanks to the state Legislature) will suffer longer and I feel very bad for our children.” I am sure there are a lot of parents, teachers, school administrators, etc., that feel the very same way.

The State Supreme Court basically ruled against our school district on the grounds that “the state (i.e. the Legislature) does not have to use funding formulas or salary multipliers to uniformly fund school districts, as is presently the case. Because it is not supported in the Seattle School District decision or in the constitution, they rejected our school district’s argument. They missed the point of the whole case, and as a result, their ruling did not address the $64,000 question: “Is the funding system currently used by the Legislature unconstitutional when it clearly states that it is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders?”

Federal Way is the seventh-largest school district in the state — yet, when the lawsuit was filed, it was ranked 263rd out of 296 districts in dollars-per-student funding. To say that is “ample funding” is like telling a student that “1 + 1 = 3.”

Assistant Attorney David Stolier argued that “although there are disparities (230 different levels of funding to be exact) between the districts (which is what the whole case was about), all districts are amply funded.” If our district was, in fact, amply funded, then our school board (and the district) would not be faced with making multimillion-dollar cuts to the budget each year.

The school district’s attorney argued adamantly for basic education by students receiving the same amount around the state because that is the only way to ensure that ample funding is provided to all districts. That is when Justice Debra Stephens summed it up succinctly by stating, “You’re really talking about putting the entire system on the table.” What shocked me in this decision was that every judge voted against Federal Way. By doing so, they dodged the issue that Justice Stephens brought up instead of addressing it.

If that wasn’t bad enough, in March 2009, our school district (along with 11 others) lost another case to fully fund special education. As Murphy said in that case, “Given the State of Washington’s clear constitutional obligation to provide ample resources for the education of all children, we are deeply disappointed that the Court of Appeals failed to recognize that the current funding of special education is inadequate. The reality remains that special education is significantly underfunded, resulting in impacts for all children.”

As the saying goes, life is not always fair.

Now that we have struck out with the courts on these issues, our only recourse now is with the Legislature. Given our serious continuing budget crisis, I do not see any remedy coming in the near future. I give our legislators an “E” for effort. Although some progress has been made, we are still a long, long way from where we need to be to “provide ample funding” to education in all the school districts.

And when it comes to the Legislature, they only operate on three speeds: Slow, slower and slowest. And you can guess what speed they are operating on now.

With this bad ruling, they have no reason to make any changes, and if that happens, it will just be “business as usual.”

Gary Robertson, Federal Way

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