On Monday, Feb. 13, the Washington Families for Online Learning Coalition announced their lawsuit against the state of Washington to restore full basic education funding for online students.

In the 2011 legislative session, legislators reduced the Basic Education Allocation (BEA) by 15 percent for students participating in an online public school program in lieu of a traditional public school. In a press release, the Coalition wrote:

Since the establishment of online public school programs in 2005 via HB 5828, there has been no question that online learning is a delivery model for basic education under state law.  Accordingly, students enrolled in state-approved online public schools have received the full Basic Education Allocation (BEA) per FTE student as students enrolled in traditional public schools—until … 2011.  Now students enrolled in online public schools receive just 85% of BEA while students in traditional public schools continue to receive 100% funding.

Traditional public schools receive funding from a number of sources including local levies, which increases their operating funds to a state average of more than $9,500 per pupil. Typically online schools rely solely on the state’s BEA which, until 2011, amounted to roughly $5,000 per pupil.

“In cutting 15 percent of the BEA for online students, the legislature discriminated against one set of public school students, and risks making it difficult for these programs to operate at all,” said Diana Moore, Senior Education Analyst for the Freedom Foundation. “If these cuts persist, one of the state’s first online schools will be forced to close. Because of the cut last year, others have had to reduce support services that are essential for student success. Cutting funding for these programs may leave them unable to meet student needs, forcing some students back into traditional public schools that weren’t meeting their needs in the first place.”

The lawsuit was filed by a number of online learning families in King County Superior Court. The Supreme Court of Washington recently affirmed a King County ruling that the state was not fulfilling its constitutional duty to amply fund public education (McCleary vs. State).

Freedom Foundation General Counsel Mike Reitz offered the following statement:

“The Washington Constitution admonishes the state to provide amply for education. The Supreme Court recently scolded the Legislature for underfunding education. If that is true, the Legislature’s decision to cut funding for online public students is puzzling. If the Legislature is supposed to amply provide for a uniform system of education it shouldn’t defund various segments of students. Every student deserves an equal opportunity to succeed. The Legislature shouldn’t play favorites.”


[Reprinted from iLearn a project of the Freedom Foundation]