Politics & Government

Trial over state school funding opens in Seattle

A trial to determine if the state is adequately paying for basic public education began Monday in King County Superior Court, with about 50 witnesses expected to testify over the next six weeks.

The lawsuit was brought by a coalition of school districts, parents, teachers and community groups who are demanding the state start paying the full cost of education.

Much of the testimony before Judge John Erlick in Seattle will focus on how much it costs to run a school district, whether the state is meeting its obligations, if student achievement is connected to school funding, and whether the Legislature’s attempts at school reform have been adequate.

The case is in some ways a continuation of a lawsuit decided by the state Supreme Court 30 years ago. Both sides will be arguing their interpretation of Seattle School District v. State that said Washington must fully pay for its definition of basic education.

State and federal dollars pay most but not all the cost to educate Washington’s students. The state constitution makes education the state’s highest priority.

After opening statements, the group calling itself Network for Excellence in Washington Schools called the superintendent of the tiny Chimacum School District, which educates just over 1,000 students on the Olympic Peninsula.

Mike Blair, who is also chairman of the network, gave attorney Thomas F. Ahearne a nearly item-by-item explanation of the costs to run his school district.

Blair spoke of the grandmother who pays for classroom supplies for the kindergartens. He told of the computers that need to be replaced, and the heating system that doesn’t always work.

“We just are a group of folks who are very frustrated by the lack of resources,” he said.