Online Education Group Sues WA State Over Budget Cuts

The Washington Families for Online Learning coalition has filed a lawsuit against the state of Washington at the King County Superior Court, saying that its proposed budget cuts have hit online education programs harder than traditional schools, which, they say, violates the state constitution.

It alleges that lawmakers last year cut Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) programs, which includes K-12 online education offered by dozens of school districts, an average 15 percent more than traditional schools, writes Stephanie Kim at the Seattle Times Olympia bureau.

The organization said that state Supreme Court decision issued last month, which ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to provide a basic education to all the state's children, reinforced their decision to sue.

Gigi Talcott, coordinator for Washington Families for Online Learning, said:

"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]."

The lawsuit says:

"The highest Court in the State of Washington recently affirmed what every parent knows—that there is no more vital duty of state government than the education of our children…The Washington Supreme Court also affirmed what everyone knows—that state officials are failing our children."

While $1.8 billion was cut from K-12 for the 2011-13 biennium, online schools receive an average of $4,250 per student — 15 percent less than traditional schools.

"Traditional public schools were also hit with cuts, including a 1.9 percent reduction in teacher salaries, a 3 percent reduction in school administrative staff and the suspension of Initiative 728, which reduced K-4 classes in 2000."

Plaintiff Melissa Staffenhaggen said:

"Not every child learns the same; online public schools give families an option to educate their children in the environment that fits their unique needs. Online public school is what works for my youngest son, while a traditional public school classroom works for my other children. Trying to put my special needs son in a traditional classroom would be a disaster—online learning has been the greatest gift for him.

"We don't understand why the Legislature thinks my youngest son doesn't deserve the same basic education funding as my other children, just because he attends an online public school and they go to school in a classroom."

While the state currently has around 9,000 full-time students enrolled in online schools, with over 50 districts offering some kind of online school programs, the cut is expected to save the state about $6 million.

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