Court: Legislature lagging at education funding

  • By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
  • Thursday, December 20, 2012 1:49pm
  • Local NewsNorthwest

SEATTLE — The Washington Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the state Legislature isn’t making enough progress toward finding more money for K-12 education in answer to the court’s decision in the McCleary school funding lawsuit.

The high court told lawmakers they must have something better to report after they finish their work in spring 2013.

“Steady progress requires forward movement. Slowing the pace of funding cuts is necessary, but it does not equate to forward progress,” wrote Chief Justice Barbara Madsen in the order filed Thursday.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled the state isn’t meeting its constitutional obligation to amply pay for basic education. In the past decade, education spending has gone from close to 50 percent to just above 40 percent of the state budget, despite the fact that some education spending is protected by the constitution.

State lawmakers have in recent years been dealing with large budget deficits, and earlier this year they cut $300 million in state funding.

The Supreme Court has given the Legislature until 2018 to fix the problem, but it wants to see yearly reports that “demonstrate steady progress.”

Lawmakers filed their first report in September and lawyers representing the coalition that brought the lawsuit against the state responded in October. The Supreme Court’s response to the two filings show the court mostly agrees with the coalition but did not take any punishing action against the Legislature.

Madsen wrote that the next report, due right after lawmakers finish their work in 2013, needs to show how the Legislature will meet its deadline and what it has done so far. The ruling clarified what the court is looking for in the next report.

In a dissent filed with Madsen’s order, Justice James M. Johnson wrote that her order violates the state constitution in two ways: the separation of powers and the delegation of education to the Legislature.

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