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Sunnyside School District supports state lawsuit

The Sunnyside School District will file an amicus brief in support of litigation by other school districts seeking increased funding for special education programs.

The resolution to file a friend of the court brief was approved by the Sunnyside School Board Thursday night.

Noting that the state constitution calls for state funding of basic education, and that state courts have included special education as part of basic education, the district's resolution calls for the state to develop special education funding "that provides full funding of necessary programs for all students in special education programs."

The original litigation began two years ago, said Superintendent Rick Cole, when the state re-configured special education funding.

"It used to be that if you had a special education student you received a certain amount of funds," Cole said. The new system, he added, now caps funding.

Schools receive special education funds from the state for up to 12.7 percent of their student enrollment. Any special needs enrollment beyond that ratio is unfunded.

Sunnyside schools fall just under that magic number, with 12.6 percent of student enrollment requiring special education needs.

Even then, state funding for special education has decreased, noted Karen Eaton, Director of Special Education for the Sunnyside School District.

Noting that special education students can range from those requiring speech therapy to serious handicaps needing an additional full time staffer, Eaton emphasized that the school district takes care of its students.

At the same time, the state needs to do its part, she said.

"When the federal government increased special education funding the state actually lowered theirs," Eaton said. "Education is supposed to be a state responsibility. The state funding does not cover special education needs."

As Sunnyside prepares to send its letter of support to the court, joining its voices with others from around the state, Cole said the next step is waiting.

"What the courts have done in the past is send issues back to the legislature to be fixed," Cole said.

And that would suit proponents of this lawsuit just fine.

Cole added, "The state needs to find an equitable way to fund special education."

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