The state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday on whether the amount of state money being distributed to school districts is equitable, and whether the disparity between some districts violates the Washington Constitution.
The court heard the state’s appeal of a November 2007 ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Federal Way school district. A King County Superior Court judge agreed with the district’s contention that the state’s method of distributing school money was unconstitutional and that the Legislature needed to find a more equitable plan.
The state distributes money based on the number of students in each district. Under a formula, the money is split among teachers, administrators and other staff members, with employees paid within a range for each category.
Most school districts, including Federal Way, get $34,426 from the state per starting-level teacher, although 12 districts get as much as $1,700 more. School districts make up the difference between the state allocation and how much the local market requires them to pay.
The state education salary formula was based on what each district paid for salaries in the 1976-1977 school year. It was corrected by the Legislature once during the 1980s, but hasn’t kept up with population changes, the Federal Way district argues.
“We have a school district that is especially harmed under the old system and has been frozen in place for 32 years,” said attorney Lester Porter Jr., who is representing the district.
Federal Way Public Schools estimates it would have $11.5 million more in state and local money each year if all districts were treated equally. The district argues that uneven distribution of state money to districts violates the state constitution because it is not general and uniform, and violates the equal protection rights of Federal Way teachers, students and taxpayers.
But the state said that while there are differences in what the districts receive, it’s not a constitutional violation.
“We think it’s a policy issue for the Legislature to deal with,” assistant attorney general David Stolier said after the hearing. “The Legislature has to judge whether to eliminate those gaps or spend money on other educational programs.”