Funding cut could force over 55,000 students out of Alternative Learning programs
SEATTLE, April 11, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Washington Families for Online Learning, a non-profit organization of parents, teachers, and supporters of online learning, calls on the legislature to rethink its unconstitutional 20 percent budget cut to Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) programs. The proposed targeted reduction violates the constitutional mandate to provide education to all children in the state. It also shifts the duty to fund education to the school districts that offer ALE programs and fails to reduce state expenditures.
At the coalition's request, Steven O'Ban of Ellis, Li, McKinstry, PLLC, reviewed the state's basic laws finding the legislature's 20 percent ALE funding cut is directly in opposition to specific state educational mandates. Thus the 20 percent ALE budget cut is unconstitutional.
Rich Dingle, president of the Washington Families for Online Learning, said, "Every child is important and every student deserves the right to learn in a manner that best suits their needs. Washington is progressive in many ways, yet it seems we're willing to leave our children behind when it comes to their education. We felt it absolutely necessary to speak to a lawyer to help clarify the degree to which this funding cut breaks Washington state law in order to keep our public schools open. We are working diligently to ensure every student in this state receives a sound education with equitable BEA funding, as our state constitution provides for."
First, Washington has a constitutional mandate to provide education to the state's children. As noted in the constitution, "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders." This was intended to ensure the state create, maintain and fairly fund a basic education system to suit all children. At least two cases have addressed this issue in the context of state funding allocations and in both cases the Court found the state's underfunding of education was unconstitutional.
Second, ALE programs are a vital component of basic education in the state of Washington. A pioneer in the sense, the state legislature implemented ALEs to address educational deficiencies in the general and uniform system of public schools. The programs were formally recognized by the legislature in 2005, when it enacted the Digital Program Law.
Steven O'Ban noted, "The legislature concluded that online ALEs are a required and essential element to providing basic education to some students of the state, and therefore must be a part of an amply funded basic program of education in the state of Washington."
The students enrolled in ALEs are by law defined as full-time equivalent students and their districts receive their general appropriation funds as they do for students attending traditional brick and mortar schools. As part of the established educational program, students in ALEs have the same right to adequate funding to equip them with the skills and knowledge mandated by the state constitution. To treat them otherwise is patently unconstitutional.
Third, the proposed targeted 20 percent budget cut directly threatens basic education for ALE students and shifts funding duties to local school districts. School districts offering ALE programs employ additional credentialed teachers and administrative staff solely for their ALE programs. The proposed cuts will require a substantial reduction in teachers as well as other necessary staff to keep operations solid.
Mr. O'Ban added, "What is worse, there is absolutely no analysis linking the magnitude of the proposed cut to the costs associated with these specific items. ALE programs also incur many additional costs not incurred by other traditional programs. A reduction of this magnitude will only harm over 55,000 students statewide that rely on ALE programs to meet their basic educational needs."
Fourth, closures or significant reductions in enrollment of ALE programs would force more students into already overcrowded brick and mortar programs. Not only would this force these students out of the basic education program specifically suited to their needs, but it would also trigger 100 percent funding of the general apportionment for these students. Therefore this budget cut would negate any cost-savings.
In short, the proposed targeted 20 percent budget cut of online digital ALEs is unconstitutional. The arbitrary cut will not result in significant cost savings, likely will result in expensive litigation for the state, and will deny basic education to students that the legislature has already concluded can best learn through ALE programs. The legislature must restore equal funding through Basic Education Appropriation (BEA) for all public school students, including ALE students, to satisfy the provisions of the Washington state constitution.
Washington Families for Online Learning is a coalition of parents, children, teachers and supporters who strive to educate others, particularly elected officials and the media, about the benefits of online public school programs and the need for high-quality public school options. To read personal stories from online public school students and for more information about Washington Families for Online Learning visit http://www.waonlinefamilies.org.
SOURCE Washington Families for Online Learning