Court: no more special education money

March 23, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

The state Court of Appeals upheld the state’s funding system for special education March 10.

Officials from 12 school districts, including Issaquah, appealed a lower court decision rendered in March 2007 at the higher court, hoping the state’s special-education funding system would be deemed inadequate based on the state’s constitution. 

“The Issaquah School District would have liked to see the lower court’s decision overturned. We are of the opinion that special education is dramatically ‘underfunded’ by the state and federal governments,” Jacob Kuper, district chief of finance and operations, wrote in an e-mail. “Due to the inadequacy of these funding sources, local taxpayers must pick up the nearly $3 million-a-year shortfall.”

In 2004, the 12 districts formed an alliance to file a lawsuit against the state and share lawsuit costs. Also included in the alliance are the Bellingham, Bethel, Burlington-Edison, Everett, Federal Way, Lake Washington, Mercer Island, Northshore, Puyallup, Riverside and Spokane school districts. The lawsuit is supported by nearly half of all school districts in the state. 

District officials say the state’s funding system for special education is unconstitutional and inadequate, and leaves them funding a large portion of special education programs with local taxpayer dollars. They argue that under the state constitution, the state should fully fund special-education programs. 

The Court of Appeals upheld the decision of Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee. His decision, issued in March 2007, determined the state’s funding cap on special education violates the state’s constitution. 

However, McPhee’s ruling did not find that the state’s overall special-education funding formula is unconstitutional, which is the heart of the alliance’s argument.  

A decision whether to continue the appeals process hasn’t yet been made. 

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. 

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