Attorney asks court to push hard on school funding

Attorney asks court to push hard on school funding
SEATTLE (AP) — The attorney representing a coalition of parents and education groups that sued the state over school funding told the Washington Supreme Court on Monday that it's time for the justices to get tough with lawmakers.

In a filing to the court, attorney Thomas Ahearne asks the justices to warn elected state officials they face sanctions, a holding of contempt or some other appropriate judicial enforcement if they don't stop dragging their feet on spending more state dollars on education.

The filing follows an update from the Legislature in August on its progress toward fulfilling a court order in the case known as the McCleary decision to fix the way Washington pays for K-12 education.

In January 2012, the Supreme Court ruled the state isn't meeting its constitutional obligation to amply pay for basic education. The Legislature added about $1 billion to education funding this year.

Ahearne wants the court to make compliance with the 2012 court order the preferable option.

The 64-page report takes issues with nearly every action by the Legislature concerning education funding. Ahearne writes:

—The state isn't making steady progress to meet the court's 2018 deadline for fully funding the reforms lawmakers have already approved.

—Lawmakers haven't given the court a detailed plan about how they will meet the financial benchmarks they have set.

—The state is ignoring underfunded staff salaries as an element of their reform plans and isn't making any progress in this area.

—Lawmakers changed the goal line for transportation funding from $170 million to $109 million.

—The state is basing its budget goals for classroom materials and supplies on 6-year-old numbers, instead of current needs.

—While the Legislature found more money for full-day kindergarten teachers, it hasn't given school districts the money they need for classrooms for additional kindergarten students.

—In the area of class size reduction, the state hasn't made up for recent budget cuts, and hasn't addressed projected classroom shortages.

—The state has ordered school districts to do more for highly capable or gifted education but hasn't found money to pay for these orders.

The brief notes that the state set a goal of spending $12,701 per student by 2018 to comply with the Supreme Court's order. The state will spend $7,279 per student this school year and $7,646 next year.

"At that under $400/year rate of increase. the per pupil finish line will not be crossed until the 2028-29 school year, if there is no inflation or capital needs," Ahearne wrote.

He points out that the Class of 2018 was in first grade when the McCleary lawsuit was filed. They were in fourth grade when the Supreme Court issued its ruling.

"Another year of state procrastination and delay might not be that important to most adults. But each year is crucial to a child traveling through our state's public schools today," he wrote.

State Sen. Rodney Tom, a Medina Democrat who leads the chamber's majority caucus, and Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, didn't immediately return phone calls late Monday afternoon for comment about the filing.