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Fight for fair school funding far from over

Post by Kim Bradford on Nov. 14, 2009 at 5:42 pm with 3 Comments »
November 14, 2009 1:43 pm

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Few things speak as emphatically as a 9-0 decision from the Washington State Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the justices not known for going along to get along spoke in unison. A unanimous court ruled that variations in the way the state allocates money for school personnel do not violate the state constitution.

No dissents. No concurring opinions that highlighted differences in members’ legal analysis of the issue. No legal recourse beyond the state’s highest court. This decision is as definitive as they come.

Federal Way schools, which brought the lawsuit and had reason to be optimistic about its chances, will now have to depend on state lawmakers to finally right this old wrong.

The district has long alleged that historical funding disparities are inconsistent with the Legislature’s constitutional charge to “provide for a general and uniform system of public schools.”

That argument convinced a King County Superior Court judge two years ago, but not the Supreme Court. Justice Jim Johnson, writing for the court last week, rejected the district’s “implicit assumption the unequal funding formulas result in disparate educational quality.”

It apparently didn’t help matters that the Federal Way district – which receives the lowest level of state funding for teachers, staff and administrators – is still able to post above-average test scores.

Also weighing heavily against the district was the court’s finding that while funding disparities remain, they have shrunk considerably since 30 years ago, when the Legislature adopted the salary schedule it continues to use to figure district allocations.

But $7 million – the difference between what Federal Way now receives and what it would if it were at the top of the range – is still not chump change. Money may not buy learning per se, but it certainly goes a long way toward supplying the prerequisites.

The Supreme Court has said the Legislature can continue to assume it costs one thing to hire a teacher in Puyallup and something less in Federal Way. The question is, why would lawmakers choose to?

The state’s archaic system may pass constitutional muster, but that makes it no more defensible in the court of common sense.
The Legislature knows that the current scheme is out of whack, or it wouldn’t have made halting attempts to fix it over the last three decades.

Lawmakers should finish the job.

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. jimkingjr says:

    But it DOES cost different amounts to hire teachers in different parts of the state. And the teachers themselves- and the people in adopting the teacher’s initiative- rejected statewide salary structures and based colas on existing disparities.

    If you want uniformity, eliminate local school districts and run everything from Olympia. If you want local control, there are going to be differences.

    Anyway- the difference was less than the differe3nces in cost of living throughout the state. Much ado about very little.

  2. The disparities in the state’s salary schedule don’t necessarily follow cost-of-living differences; if the Legislature wants to build a system that does that, it will still have to scrap the current schedule.

    You could argue that’s it much to do about nothing in the teacher ranks – although try to find me a district that thinks even a 4.9 percent gap between the lowest-funded district and highest-funded district is insignificant – but the salary figures for administrators and classified staff have much wider ranges (gaps of 45 percent and 15 percent, respectively.)

  3. jimkingjr says:

    There isn’t a district that doesn’t think one-tenth of one percent is worth fighting about- and there isn’t a district that wants to give up any local control, either.

    The 45% gap on “administrators” speaks more to district priorities in what they want to pay- and the same is true of classified staffs. The histories reflect the histories of colective bargaining and trade-offs on the local level.

    The state should not be expected to take the highest point some districts choose to pay.

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