Washington Special Education Funding Lawsuit Ends

Last Updated: January 25, 2011

This article appeared in the January 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.

The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled against a coalition of school districts seeking to force the state to change the way special education is funded. Arguments in the Alliance for Adequate Funding of Special Education (AAFSE) case were heard by the state high court last July (see coverage in RSFN here). The ruling was released last month.

The trial court and the Court of Appeals had previously ruled against the Alliance, which claimed that the state was violating its constitutional duty to provide sufficient funding for education. The Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court ruling that the plaintiffs must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the state was not funding special education sufficiently.

The districts had claimed that the state’s special education weight — an additional .9309 of base student funding — did not cover the extra services typically mandated in special education students’ Individualized Education Plans. But, the court rejected this argument saying that special education students receive a Basic Education Allocation (BEA) in addition to special education funding, and therefore there is no underfunding.

All Washington schools are anticipating a significant fight over how $512 million in budget cuts will be implemented in the state. Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed eliminating funds to reduce class sizes in Kindergarten through 4th grade; she has also proposed reducing levy equalization payments to districts. Levy equalization payments help bring some equity to school funding by providing additional funding to property-poor districts whose local revenues for schools cannot match those of districts with higher property wealth. Over the two-year budget period those cuts would total about $39.5 million.

Officials from property-poor districts say the cuts to levy equalization are unfair because districts with high property wealth that do not receive equalization payments will not be affected.

A school funding reform plan that is being phased in will eliminate levy equalization and shift all funding for schools to the state by 2018. A recent decision in the state’s school funding lawsuit endorsed the school funding reform plan, although it also held that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to fund basic public education. The state has appealed that decision to the Washington Supreme Court.

The Governor’s budget includes an increase of $90 million for school transportation costs and $20 million for school “reform” efforts.

Read more:

Coverage of the special education lawsuit ruling:

Link to the response of the plaintiff districts, and to the court’s ruling from here:

Coverage of education funding cuts:

Rural Education Center, an excellent resource for information on many issues, including the LEA:

Read more from the January 2011 Rural Policy Matters.