SEATTLE — A coalition of teachers, parents, community groups and school districts will argue in King County Superior Court this week that the state has not been spending enough on public education and should be required to totally revamp the way it pays for schools.
The state will argue at the hearing scheduled for Friday morning before Superior Court Judge Paris K. Kallas that it has met the requirements stemming from a similar lawsuit 30 years ago and the court should not allow this case to derail Washington's reform efforts.
"The other side wants to expand the constitutional obligations of the state, and we don't think that's appropriate," Bill Clark, assistant state attorney general, said in a recent interview.
Clark said the state feels it is meeting the education duties defined in Washington's constitution and the mandate of the state Supreme Court from 30 years ago.
"We took that decision to heart and we're complying with it," he said.
The Network for Excellence in Washington Schools does not agree. The group wants Kallas to declare that the state has failed to live up to the constitution, which defines education as the state's paramount duty.
"We're reminding everyone the constitution is clear. It doesn't say 'a' paramount duty. It says 'the'," said James Kelly, president of the Seattle Urban League, a member of the network.
Court briefs filed by the coalition call for an end to the "state's 29 years of foot-dragging and excuses for not yet fully complying with the Supreme Court's ruling in Seattle School District v. State," the 1978 ruling on school spending.
In May, the coalition filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the judge to decide on the facts in the case without holding a trial. The hearing next week will allow both sides to argue the motion, which Clark expects the judge to reject.
"We think what they are proposing is bad law, bad science and it will frustrate the reform efforts," he said. "If they persist with their claim, then we'll have to go to trial on the case."
The coalition says the state's education system relies on an outdated formula for allocating money that leaves schools financially strapped and unable to adequately educating children.
The state uses sales, business and state property taxes to pay 84.3 percent of what it costs to educate Washington's 1 million school children. The other 15.7 percent comes from local levies and some federal money, primarily for education of special-needs children.
The bulk of state dollars go to teacher salaries. The state also matches local bond money for school construction.
The coalition's lawsuit seeks to force the Legislature to pay 100 percent of the cost to educate K-12 students, but does not suggest how. It also does not address higher education.
The 2007 state Legislature called for a new task force to take education reform efforts to the next level and go beyond policies to dollars.
The research is being done by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, which was given until next month to propose a plan for developing a new K-12 school spending structure. The researchers are supposed to submit their final recommendations to the new task force by September 2008.
Supporters of the new law call it a logical next step in the process started by the governor's Washington Learns task force, which recommended a broad agenda for education policy reform when it made its final report last year.
Mike Blair, chairman of the coalition that filed the lawsuit, complimented the Legislature for continuing to work toward the same goal, but he wondered how many more studies it would take before Washington schools are fully supported by the state.
"Every year in the Legislature, there are bills that want to look at funding, studies and defining basic education," said Blair, who is also superintendent of the Chimacum School District on the northern Olympic Peninsula.
—The Associated Press