An online learning coalition has filed a lawsuit against Washington state, claiming that budget cuts have hit alternative education programs harder than traditional schools, violating the state constitution.
Members of the Washington Families for Online Learning sued in King County Superior Court.
It alleges that lawmakers last year cut Alternative Learning Experience, or ALE, programs, which include K-12 online education offered by dozens of school districts, by an average 15 percent more than traditional schools.
The group said a state supreme court decision issued last month reinforced the coalition’s decision to sue. The court ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to provide a basic education to all of the state’s children.
“We were singled out because all public schools and districts took the same cut, but they targeted students in ALE programs, like online schools by cutting more,” said Gigi Talcott, the coordinator for Washington Families for Online Learning and a former state representative. The office of the state superintendent for public instruction declined to comment about the lawsuit.
Legislators have cut about $1.8 billion from K-12 education for the 2011-13 biennium. Traditional public schools were also hit with cuts, including a 1.9 percent reduction in teacher salaries, a 3 percent reduction in school administrative staffing, and the suspension of Initiative 728, which was passed in 2000 and aimed to reduce K-4 class sizes.
Previously, regular public schools and online schools received about $5,000 per student per academic year in state funding; now, online schools will receive an average of $4,250 per student—15 percent less.
The cut is expected to save the state about $6 million.
The state now has about 9,000 full-time-equivalent students enrolled in online schools. More than 50 school districts statewide, including Federal Way, Tacoma, Olympia, and Spokane, offer online school programs.
Copyright © 2012, The Seattle Times, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
A version of this article appeared in the February 29, 2012 edition of Education Week as Online Learning Group Sues Washington State