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State Schools Chief: 'This Budget Is Not Constitutional'

John Froschauer
AP Photo
FILE - Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn speaks in 2009.

Though it includes new funding for schools, state superintendent Randy Dorn says the budget Washington lawmakers passed falls short of meeting a Supreme Court mandate to increase K-12 spending.

In a statement, Dorn called on the state's high court to "take whatever steps necessary to bring the Legislature back into session as soon as possible" to work out solutions to problems justices ordered them to solve in their 2012 McCleary ruling.

"What it comes down to is the Court said [lawmakers] have to produce a complete plan" to fund K-12 education, Dorn later said in an interview. "They did not give any kind of a plan moving forward."

Specifically, Dorn said local school districts are still using local property tax dollars to cover basic expenses that should be the state’s responsibility. In McCleary, the court ruled this to be unconstitutional.

"The lack of progress on that front was a major shortcoming of this legislative session," said Frank Ordway, director of government relations for the League of Education Voters, "and it’s really going to be up to the court now to hold the legislature’s feet to the fire on that issue."

The issue of property taxes has been politically complicated. A bill including a proposed "levy swap" — which would hike state property tax rates while forcing down local rates — stalled earlier in the session.

Ordway says the much of the rest of the budget is great for education. It includes $1.3 billion in new K-12 funding — money explicitly aimed at fulfilling the McCleary decision — an expansion of early learning, and historic cuts to college tuition rates.

"This budget," said a statement from Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, "allows us to take a big step toward meeting our obligation to K-12 education, including all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes in lower grades and a teacher mentoring program."

Lawmakers have until 15 days after they adjourn to file a report with the Supreme Court outlining their “complete plan” to fulfill the McCleary ruling.

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