August 31, 2009 in City

State sued over school funding

Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press

Fast fact

The National Access Network, which maintains a database of current litigation, reports that 45 of the 50 states have been sued over their methods of paying for public schools.

SEATTLE – Right in the middle of a recession that has created the worst atmosphere for school budgeting in decades, a coalition of Washington school districts, parents, teachers and community groups is going to court Monday to demand that the state start paying the full cost of education.

Attorneys for both sides say the economy will have little or no influence on the outcome of the non-jury trial, scheduled to begin on the first day of the school year for many districts and to continue for six weeks of testimony in King County Superior Court.

School districts have been struggling economically for decades, so while the recession makes things worse it doesn’t make them different, said Mike Blair, chair of the group Network for Excellence in Washington Schools.

State and federal dollars pay most, but not all, of the cost to educate Washington’s students. The rest of the money comes from local tax levies, donations and PTA fundraisers. Meanwhile, the Washington Constitution makes education the state’s highest priority.

Blair, superintendent of Chimacum School District, represents one of the smallest districts in the state, but he is joined in the lawsuit by 29 other school districts including many of state’s largest – Seattle, Spokane, Kent and Federal Way.

Senior Assistant Attorney General David Stolier said each side will argue its interpretation of a state Supreme Court ruling from more than 30 years ago that said Washington state must fully pay for its definition of basic education.

The coalition says the state has been dragging its feet on implementing the court’s decision ever since.

But Bill Clark, the assistant state attorney general taking the lead on this case, maintains the state is meeting the education duties as mandated by the state Supreme Court in 1978.

“If it’s been 30 years of foot dragging … then where have these petitioners been?” Clark asked during a previous hearing on the case.

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