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Gov. Inslee Urges Lawmakers To Craft School Funding Solution, Special Session Could Come Later

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Gov. Jay Inslee said he encouraged state legislative leaders to begin working on a solution to fundamental equity problems in Washington’s system for funding public schools during an hour-long meeting Monday.

The governor's statements come a week after the state Supreme Court took state leaders to task for dragging their feet in complying with the McCleary school funding ruling. Last Thursday, justices urged Inslee to call a special session and announced they would begin fining state government $100,000 every day until lawmakers fulfilled their demands.

But Inslee said Monday he wouldn’t call a special session immediately, encouraging lawmakers to "fashion a process” to take steps that will “bring more equity to education,” as the McCleary ruling demands.

"I’m going to ask legislators to work vigorously before a special session to tee up a solution we could then could pass in quick order in a special session,” Inslee said at a press conference Monday.

A special session itself could take hours, Inslee said, if lawmakers can create a solution that will both pass the legislature and satisfy the court.

In the latest state budget, lawmakers included more than $1.3 billion in new K-12 funding aimed at putting an end to the protracted legal and legislative saga, which started in 2007 when Chimacum parents Stephanie and Matthew McCleary — along with other parents, unions, interest groups and school districts — sued the state for underfunding education.

But last Thursday, the court ruled lawmakers efforts had still fallen short, notably faulting lawmakers for having “wholly failed” to deliver a plan to pay the true cost of a teacher’s salary.

The state’s base teacher salaries are not competitive, non-partisan research has found. This forces school districts to rely on dollars raised through local property tax levies to make teachers’ salaries more competitive. In Tacoma, for instance, state funding covers roughly 70 percent of teacher salaries.

Lawmakers, justices wrote last week, "must do something in the matter of compensation that will achieve full state funding of public education salaries.”

Because the court's fines do not threaten the state's day-to-day operations, some lawmakers had said it would be better to wait until the legislature’s next regular session to complete the final elements of their work.

Inslee said lawmakers would convene again — in person or by phone — within the next week.

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