Politics & Government

Supreme Court upholds special-ed funding

SEATTLE - The Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state is not shortchanging school districts in the way it pays for special education.

In an 8-1 ruling, the high court affirmed a Court of Appeals ruling sparked by a lawsuit brought by a dozen school districts across the state in Thurston County Superior Court.

The justices ruled that the Alliance for Adequate Funding of Special Education failed to prove the laws governing Washington’s special-education financing are unconstitutional.

Attorney General Rob McKenna called the ruling good news for the state Legislature “because it affirms lawmakers’ authority to prioritize education funding for children with special needs within the context of the overall state budget. This is crucial as the state continues to struggle with budget challenges.”

An attorney for the alliance did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

The alliance has argued Washington districts have been forced to use money raised by school levies to support special education because they were not getting enough money from the state. It argued a $112 million shortfall in state money was being covered by local dollars.

The Supreme Court responded that the alliance should have included the basic education money given to school districts in their calculations, because the Legislature has consistently said special-education students are also basic education students.

If, as the alliance’s expert told the court, the cost to educate a specialeducation student is 190 percent of a basic education student, and the state says it allocates 193 percent of the cost of basic education for each specialeducation student, then there should be no shortfall, the court concluded.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said Thursday that the real issue regarding education finance is whether schools are amply supported.