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Attorney General: Washington Lawmakers On Track To Complete School Funding Plan

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Though the Washington Legislature closed its regular session without reaching a budget, it remains on track to fulfill the state Supreme Court's schools funding mandate, the state's top lawyer said in a legal filing Monday.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, charged with defending state lawmakers in the ongoing McCleary case, wrote a progress report to the court saying spending proposals from both the state House and Senate include "historic" increases in K-12 education funding.

Now all that's left, Ferguson argued, is to reach a deal in the special session which starts Wednesday.

"These bills contain provisions that, if enacted in various combinations, would result in compliance with the Court's ... order," Ferguson wrote.

Majority Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate have both proposed spending increases of between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion on K-12 education. That increase seeks to address several major requests from the court, including for more money for classroom supplies and for reducing class sizes in Grades K-3.

Ferguson highlighted four bills filed during the regular session that address another vexing question raised by the McCleary ruling raises: how should lawmakers reduce school districts' over-reliance on local property tax levies to pay basic expenses the state should be covering?

A lack of legislative progress on these issues had prompted justices to hold lawmakers in contempt of the court's McCleary ruling last September. But Ferguson said if the court waits to meet until after a special session, the legislature will have had an opportunity to pass a budget

"The Court therefore," Ferguson added later, "should defer reconvening to consider whether the State has purged contempt and whether to impose sanctions or other remedial measures until the Legislature has concluded its business for 2015."

In a statement, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said that, while heartened by the legislature's late-session progress, he was still disappointed.

"This shows serious conversations are taking place. But the bills have yet to move through the legislative process," Dorn said. "Simply put, the State hasn’t done enough for the Supreme Court to lift the contempt order."

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