Fair Funding Lawsuit Information
Over a year after a King County Judge ruled in favor of Federal Way Public Schools, a date has been set for the Washington State Supreme Court to hear arguments regarding Federal Way Public Schools’ fair funding lawsuit against the State of Washington.
On November 2, 2007, King County Superior Court Judge Michael Heavey declared the state's current school funding system, in particular the LEAP salary allocation table, unconstitutional. He further ruled that the disparate funding violates the constitutional equal protection rights of Federal Way's teachers, students and taxpayers.
The lawsuit was brought against the state in 2006 to challenge the state’s system of funding, which results in substantial inequities in state funding from one school district to the next. The state attorney general’s office appealed Judge Heavey’s decision to the state Supreme Court shortly after it was delivered.
On June 11, 2009, lawyers representing the district and those representing the State Attorney General’s Office will make brief oral arguments before the justices of the Supreme Court.
Federal Way Public Schools’ Board of Education voted unanimously at the October 24, 2006 board meeting to pursue a lawsuit (703K PDF) regarding inequitable school funding against the State of Washington. Currently there are substantial differences in state funding from one school district to the next. Resolution #2006-28 authorizes the filing of a legal complaint challenging the constitutionality of the inequitable funding formulas for teaching, administrative and classified staff.
Federal Way students, parents and taxpayers are represented in the lawsuit by individual board members, and representatives for each funding formula component are named as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit, as well. Representing the district’s teachers is Shannon Rasmussen, President of the Federal Way Education Association. Administrative staff members are represented by Cindy Black, Principal of Nautilus Elementary and President of the Federal Way Principals Association. Classified staff members are represented by Ginger Cornwell, ParaEducator at Valhalla Elementary and Vice President of the Public School Employees Association.
“There is no rational basis for the differences in funding of school districts,” Superintendent Thomas R. Murphy noted. “The State Legislature has simply taken the school funding inequities declared unconstitutional in 1977 and frozen them in place without any meaningful or substantial change for twenty years."
Federal Way Public Schools is the 7th largest school district in Washington, yet it ranks 263rd out of the 296 districts in dollars-per-student funding. If Federal Way had been funded at the same rate as the best-funded districts in the 2006-07 school year, the district estimates it could have received $11.5 million more in state and local funding than it actually received that year. “Equitable funding is ethically, morally and legally the right thing to do,” Superintendent Murphy emphasized.
The district has made nearly $22 million worth of budget cuts since the 2002-2003 school year, resulting in dramatic reductions in personnel and programs to compensate for inequitable funding.
“The question is not necessarily whether funding is adequate across the board, but whether the funds allocated by the Legislature for education are fairly disbursed. Our system of funding is not conducive to creating a ‘general and uniform system of public schools’; it has created a system where some school districts are more equal than others,” then school board member David Larson noted in a 2006 editorial in the Seattle Times.
“We are not asking for more than any other district gets, we are only asking for fair and equitable funding that meets Washington’s constitutional requirement to “provide for a general and uniform system of public schools,” Director Larson added.