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State Supreme Court upholds special education formula

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Washington Supreme Court justices listen to arguments during a court hearing.

The State Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of the state’s formula for calculating how much money school districts get for special education classes.

An alliance of Washington school districts – including Spokane Public Schools – argued that Washington’s special education formula violates provisions of the state constitution. A majority of Supreme Court justices, however, agreed with lower courts that school districts must spend all of their Basic Education Allotment and any additional special education money received before they can claim to be underfunded.

Mike Ainsworth, who heads Spokane Public Schools special education program, says plaintiff school districts believe that requirement ignores a basic financial fact.

“The state’s position is that the basic ed. dollars should follow the student into special education, which then leaves a shortfall on the general ed. side. So all you’re doing is transferring money from one pocket into the next,” says Mike Ainsworth.

Meanwhile, says Ainsworth, the school district’s basic education overhead costs continue.

“Just because the students may leave the classroom does not mean that you can reduce the teacher’s salary because the student is going to be out for a short period of time,” says Ainsworth.

The high court majority, however, held that the state’s basic education monies are tied to individual students whatever classroom they may be in. Justices also dismissed the schools’ argument that Washington’s Constitution prohibits spending basic education money for special education classes.

Writing in dissent, Justice Richard Sanders said the majority position imposed a – quoting – misguided and unwarranted standard of proof that a law is constitutional unless proven otherwise beyond reasonable doubt.

Spokane Public Schools’ Mike Ainsworth says the plaintiff districts will meet with attorneys to determine what future action they may take.