Court finds current state school funding formula constitutional | State Supreme Court overturns education funding case

The Washington State Supreme Court has overturned a 2006 ruling from the King County Superior Court, finding unanimously that the state’s funding allocation formula for education is constitutional.

The court stated in its Nov. 12 ruling that the formula for funding schools does not violate the state’s constitution.

The case originated in the Federal Way School District, where the district, teachers, parents and students sued the state, saying that the formula violated the state’s constitution because the state was failing to meet the provision outlined in article IX section 1 of the state constitution, which says, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

The Federal Way School District receives the lowest salary funding within the state, according to court documents.

“I’m clearly disappointed,” said Mercer Island School District Superintendent Gary Plano. “The court disregarded the fact that there was no rational basis for the discrepancy in funding. The ruling basically permits the state to disregard the uniformity requirements of the state constitution for public school funding. The ruling does not take into account that different funding levels do impact student achievement.”

In the Supreme Court ruling, the justices said: “The Superior Court held that the legislature’s current funding allocation system violates the education article of our state constitution, which requires the legislature to ‘provide for a general and uniform system of public schools.’ We disagree.” The court also went on the say that there was no showing by the plaintiffs that the legislature’s funding allocations violated the state’s constitution.

The court, via the written majority opinion by Justice James Johnson, said Federal Way’s case relied on a decision that the court made in relation to a Seattle School District case 32 years ago, when that district sued because the funding gap was more than 100 percent and the Seattle district could not pass levies to help fund education. The state’s high court said on Thursday that the current funding gap of 5 percent was minimal.

The current case’s opinion stated that Federal Way relied on a small part of the Seattle district’s case three decades ago. The current court said: “The Legislature must expressly deploy resources that are sufficient to provide for basic education. But the court did not require uniformity of funding formulas or salary multipliers. Moreover, the cited passage merely begs the question of what is ‘sufficient.’ Federal Way School District cites no authority for the argument that, in order for resources to be constitutionally sufficient, the Legislature must allocate them uniformly or use uniform formulas. Our decision in Seattle School District No. 1 does not support the argument nor does the constitutional provision, and therefore we reject it.”

Federal Way Superintendent Tom Murphy said he was extremely disappointed in the ruling and that he felt bad for the children.

Another case in the state dealing with the state’s funding of education, brought forth by the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, a coalition of over 70 school districts, education associations and community groups, was heard in the King County Superior Court beginning at the end of August and ending at the end of October. This case also asks that the state live up to the provisions outlined in the state constitution. A decision is expected to by made by the court in January.

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