Education Chief Wants to Drop the Spending Hammer on Lawmakers

By Tom Bacon

In a special Washington State Supreme Court hearing early next month, state legislators may feel a bit like kids called to the principal's office. The high court justices have summoned top lawmakers to explain why they have not come up with a plan to increase state funding for education.

The unusual order comes from a high court decision in 2012 which found the state is not meeting its constitutional requirements to full fund basic education.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn filed  new brief Monday with the supreme court which may ratchet up the pressure on the legislature. He wants the justices to hold their legal fire until next year's legislature has a chance to agree on a new funding scheme. But if that doesn't happen, Dorn said, he wants the court to hand the lawsuit plaintiffs, as he put it, a hammer - a hammer that could cut off any state spending which does not apply to basic education.

That possibility has made at least three Washington State non-profit groups nervous. Columbia Legal Services, the Children's Alliance and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance have filed their own briefs, asking the court not to harm programs for low-income kids. They said that critical services will be rationed, and may ultimately be eliminated or reduced to the point of ineffectiveness.

In the last legislature, lawmakers appropriated about 982-million dollars for education over the next two years. But their own estimates put the total needed at 2-point-5 billion dollars to meet the obligations they identified. Dorn said legislators are about 20-yards into a 100-yard dash. They need a big surge in 2015, he said.
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