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McCleary impasse: Our children deserve a solution, not an embarrassing civics lesson

The Legislature needs to stop its dithering over school funding and reform and put Washington’s students first, writes Kate Riley, editorial page editor.

Enough!

Enough legislative dithering over Washington’s solution to the state’s school funding system, which perpetuates mortifying educational inequity among the state’s 1 million public K-12 students.

Five years after the Supreme Court ruled the state’s overreliance on local school levies was unconstitutional, legislative leaders are at a standoff on the state budget. Uncertainty is complicating district budgeting for the fall. Some teachers, their families and others are in limbo over what their prospects might be next fall.

It is untenable. If the Legislature’s 30-day overtime session expires on Tuesday and lawmakers cannot prove to the governor that they have authentic ways to compromise on the state budget, the governor should act — or rather not act. That is, instead of immediately calling yet another special session, the governor should show leadership … and stand down.

That effectively would kick the conversation back to the state Supreme Court, which has retained jurisdiction over the issue since its 2012 McCleary ruling. Within 30 days, the Legislature would have to file a report with the court; the McCleary plaintiffs would respond and then a hearing would be held. The court could then wade back in forcefully to compel lawmakers to solve this problem.

The Legislature probably would have to pass some kind of continuing resolution to keep state government running.

This suggestion by The Seattle Times editorial board is not to denigrate the work of those McCleary policy negotiators from the House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, who have been meeting diligently. Without sharing details, credible officials close to those negotiations report substantial progress on ironing out the differences between the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate policies. That is really good news.

Rather, this suggestion is to highlight the downright stubbornness of leadership on both sides of the aisle. Many credible sources, again on both sides of the aisle, report pained skepticism that the two houses will be able to agree on a budget and a plan to fund the policies that emerge from the McCleary negotiations before the end of the fiscal year June 30.

The details don’t matter as much as the goals, which matter a lot: Fix inequities, improve student outcomes, ensure accountability.

Briefly, the GOP-controlled Senate has passed a McCleary policy plan and a budget that includes an attempt to eliminate the state’s use of local levies to pay for basic education. It falls far short of the money needed. Also, it would cut property taxes around the state but raise them in more urban areas — making it DOA in the Puget Sound-dominated Democratic House. Further, some in Senate leadership tout the wrongheaded…

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