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McCleary Attorney: Wash. Lawmakers' School Funding Report 'A Bunch of Malarky'

Ted S. Warren
AP File Photo
Attorney Thomas Ahearne argues in front of the Washington State Supreme Court in a 2004 file photo.

A lawyer who argued a landmark education funding case before the Washington Supreme Court says state lawmakers are still dragging their feet in meeting the mandate justices set out: develop, by this week, a "complete plan" to pump billions of new dollars into the state's public schools.

The report lawmakers submitted on Tuesday "is not satisfactory and it's a bunch of malarky," said attorney Thomas Ahearne, who represented the plaintiffs in the landmark McCleary case.

Top lawmakers on a panel charged with reporting to the Court say there are still disagreements for how to comply with the McCleary decision — which ruled the state had failed its "paramount duty" to fund public education — but say that's a matter for the full Legislature, not a small group of lawmakers.

Ahearne disagrees, saying lawmakers have acted quickly in the past on issues they wanted to tackle.

"When Boeing wants something, you have a special session and in a matter of days, you come up with a multi-billion dollar package. When a sports team wants a stadium, the legislature acts quickly to make sure they get their stadium," Ahearne says. "This idea that you need a long session to work things out to come up with big dollars just isn’t accurate.”

One legislative estimate has said lawmakers will have to add roughly $3.5 billion in funding to Washington's school funding formula by 2018 to comply with the McCleary ruling.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says that number doesn't account for necessary increases in teacher pay. He's called for a $7 billion increase in funding. Though some lawmakers have characterized that figure as an "upper bound," Ahearne says even Dorn's estimate may fall short.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, says the joint committee that submitted the report is "not empowered" to work out lawmakers' disagreements on the amount of funding they should add or how to add it to the budget.

"The trick is can we get 50 votes in the House and 25 in the Senate and the governor to agree in January when we're back in session," Hunter says, "which will take a fair amount of work over the interim to get to both an understanding of what the final number is and how we'll pay for it.

"What this committee's job is," he added, "is to produce a report about what we did to the Court. And I think the report provides remarkable clarity about what we did and what we do agree on, but there are places we do not have agreement in the legislature."

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.