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School funding lawsuit: Major victory or another setback? | Federal Way letters
If you get the Federal Way Mirror's print edition, then you probably read the article “A major victory in education funding fight” written by reporter Kyra Low. I take one exception to this article and that is the title: As we found out with the Federal Way School District lawsuit, this is not a “major victory,” it is just a victory. It will become a “major victory" when State Attorney General Rob McKenna decides not to appeal the decision or if he does, when the State Supreme Court affirms King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick’s decision (McCleary et al v. State of Washington).
If you have been following this issue, then you know we are currently batting 0-for-2 on this issue as a judge shot down the lawsuit on funding special education. Then last year, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state when they appealed the Federal Way School District’s lawsuit, overturning the trial judge’s decision.
I have not agreed with either of these rulings and when Judge Erlick issued his 78-page ruling, he reaffirmed what we, who support our students, believe that the state has not met its “paramount” duty to fully fund basic education as required by Article IX, Section 1 of our state constitution. Judge Erlick defined “paramount” as meaning “preeminent, supreme and more important than all others” and that funding K-12 education is “the state’s first and highest priority before any other state programs or operations.”
This requires the legislature to fully (and hopefully fairly) fund K-12 education. Once that has been accomplished, then the state Legislature must fund the remaining (non-educational) programs. If the state faces a budget shortfall, then legislators have limited options like eliminating waste and fraud, cutting other programs (but not education) or finding ways to raise additional revenue. The other issue is the state’s funding formula, which is more than 30 years old (established when the Seattle School District won its lawsuit against the state in the 1970s). The fact of the matter is they should have “updated/revised” the funding formula a long time ago.
Ask yourself: When there are 230 different levels of funding, how fair can that be? When you are the seventh-largest school district in the state and when our lawsuit was filed, we were 263rd out of 296 school districts in dollars per student funding — how fair is that?
As a result, Federal Way and many other school districts across the state have faced multimillion-dollar budget deficits year after year. Each year, as the school board and the superintendent go through this process of making significant cuts to balance the budget, the process gets more difficult and the choices become more limited. The budget for the 2010–2011 school year may be the most difficult our school board and the superintendent have ever had to face unless the state Legislature provides some financial relief to funds-strapped school districts like ours.
Based on the Legislature’s past performance, the chances of that happening are probably somewhere between slim and none...but hopeful.
I firmly believe every student should have an opportunity to obtain a quality, first-class education and we have an obligation to provide it.
The bottom line is we are rapidly approaching the end of the “limited options” we have left. I urge everyone to write your Attorney General (Rob McKenna, 1125 Washington St. SE, P.O. Box 40100, Olympia, WA 98504-0100) and urge him to let Judge Erlick’s decision stand and not waste valuable taxpayers’ money in appealing this decision.
If we do not prevail in this judicial decision, it may be like they say in baseball: Three strikes and you are out. The sooner the Legislature makes education funding its “paramount” duty, the better everyone — and especially our students — will be. The students of today are our most important resource because they will become our leaders of tomorrow. We can’t afford to let them down. The stakes are way too high.
Gary Robertson, Federal Way