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Legal challenge possible on cut to alternative education

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on April 22, 2011 at 9:15 am |
April 22, 2011 11:07 am

A lawsuit is brewing over the Legislature’s proposed cuts to online learning and other non-school-based education, which supporters say is part of students’ right to basic eduction under the state constitution and can’t legally be reduced.

But lawmakers may be backing away from those cuts.

School districts can claim basic-education funding for so-called Alternative Learning Experiences that mainly happen away from their campuses. House budget writers have proposed cutting that ALE money by 20 percent, saying the programs need less money per student than do traditional brick-and-mortar schools with secretaries and custodians. The Senate countered with a 10 percent cut.

Former Rep. Gigi Talcott of the group Washington Families for Online Learning warned in a news release that cutting the basic education of more than 50,000 students in ALE programs is “unprecedented and sets the state up for another legal challenge.” She was in Olympia this week showing lawmakers an analysis by the attorney she has retained, Steve O’Ban, saying lawmakers risked a constitutional challenge.

O’Ban said a lawsuit is “on the table” if the funding cut goes through.

Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, who helped craft the House’s education cuts, sees the alternative programs as distinct from constitutionally protected basic education, but she doesn’t like the proposed cut anyway. She said other lawmakers are coming around after hearing more information about the diversity of ALE programs since the cut was proposed.

Haigh and advocates said the cost of the programs will be cut by 10 percent without any cuts to per-student funding if the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction approves a rule change next week as expected.

Among other changes, Haigh said the new rule would eliminate stipends for parents of home-schooled children who use programs.

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