Lawmakers running out of time

The OlympianMay 27, 2014 

The plot thickens in the already tangled tale of school funding.

In 2012, the state Supreme Court made a landmark ruling, ordering the state Legislature to fully fund K-12 public education.

Plaintiffs in the case last week had nothing but harsh words for a progress report state lawmakers filed with the state’s highest court three weeks ago. The progress report reiterated the political difficulty legislators have crafting a funding plan. Lawmakers essentially asked for a reprieve until 2015, and the next regular legislative session.

Not so fast, the plaintiffs said. They asked the court to hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire, calling for a special legislative session to provide additional funding and a long-range funding plan by the end of the year.

To comply with the court order in McCleary v. State of Washington, the Legislature must come up with at least $3.5 billion by the 2017-18 school year.

They crafted a down payment of about $1.1 billion during the 2013 session, but added only another $58 million to the public education funding pot during the 60-day, 2014 session.

McCleary v. State is like a high-stakes poker game at this point, with state lawmakers betting the court won’t hold them in contempt of court before they convene the 2015 Legislature, which will be a budget-making session with unparalleled challenges.

The Supreme Court could take months to issue its response to the latest challenge. There appears to be no political will to call a special session just as the political campaign season kicks into high gear.

Maybe lawmakers will dodge a bullet for the remainder of the year. But anyone who survives the election and reports to duty in 2015 knows that they have no choice but to make meaningful progress on a funding plan. Vague promises are no longer enough.

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