Group presses state lawmakers for more education dollars

Group presses state lawmakers for more education dollars
SEATTLE (AP) - A coalition of school districts, teachers, parents and education groups that sued the state over the way it pays for public schools sent a pointed letter pressing lawmakers for a bold increase in education spending this year.

"The Supreme Court and the families of one million Washington students are watching to see if you will abide by the law. Please, do not defy the court order. Our children are depending upon you," Nick Brossoit, superintendent of the Edmonds School District, wrote on behalf of the 420-member Network for Excellence in Washington Schools.

A year ago, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in what is known as the McCleary case that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to pay for basic education and is relying too much on school districts to raise extra dollars through local levies.

The justices want to see the Legislature pay for previously adopted education reforms and proof of yearly progress toward completing the work by 2018.

The letter reminds lawmakers that the Supreme Court was not happy with the first progress report filed in September.

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

"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 in December.

Lawmakers are in the sixth week of the 15-week session and have yet to agree on how much of a down payment is needed this year.

The differences involve policy debates as well as dollars, but both Democrats and Republicans have promised to reach a compromise before going home.

"With or without that letter we know what the McCleary decision said and we're working to find a solution to it this year," said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, who is the House majority leader.

He's in Olympia to represent the families who are working hard to make sure their kids have every opportunity to be successful, he said on Thursday.

The Senate Education Committee so far has focused on further education reforms rather than how to pay for the moves the Legislature has already approved, but the committee chair, Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said he's also working on the dollars behind the scenes.

He said Thursday that he agrees with the letter, but money is only part of the solution.

"What we're trying to figure out is how do we do more with more. The last thing we want to do is just put more money in and not have student learning go up," he said.

Brossoit assumes lawmakers are sincere in their efforts to improve education, but he worries about overly simplistic policy changes that won't cure education opportunity or achievement gaps between rich and poor kids.

Helping kids who are behind their classmates and state standards is something educators already know how to do, Brossoit said Thursday. It takes hard work by extra staff who give struggling kids the extra help they need and that won't happen without extra money, he added.

The letter expresses the coalition's impatience, but it is intended to inform and guide lawmakers, not lobby, Brossoit said. In addition to the letter, the coalition sent a chart illustrating what it calls a lack of progress toward fully paying for the cost of basic education.

When the state prevails in a legal matter, the government wouldn't consider just forgiving the defendant, Brossoit said. Now the Legislature is in the opposite position and the coalition expects it to stop avoiding the issue and act, he said.

"The general public gets it. People understand that public schools have not been properly funded for years," he said.

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Associated Press writer Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia contributed to this report.