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Court finds Legislature slow on ed funding

Justices expect better results by end of session

SEATTLE – The Washington Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the state Legislature isn’t making enough progress toward finding more money for K-12 education in answer to the court’s decision in the McCleary school funding lawsuit.

The high court told lawmakers they must have something better to report after they finish their work in spring 2013.

“Steady progress requires forward movement. Slowing the pace of funding cuts is necessary, but it does not equate to forward progress,” wrote Chief Justice Barbara Madsen in the order filed Thursday.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled the state isn’t meeting its constitutional obligation to amply pay for basic education. In the past decade, education spending has gone from nearly 50 percent to just above 40 percent of the budget.

State lawmakers have in recent years been dealing with large budget deficits. Earlier this year they cut $300 million in state funding.

The Supreme Court has given the Legislature until 2018 to fix the problem, but it wants to see yearly reports that “demonstrate steady progress.”

Lawmakers filed their first report in September and lawyers representing the coalition that brought the lawsuit against the state responded in October. The Supreme Court’s response to the two filings shows the court mostly agrees with the coalition but did not take any punishing action against the Legislature.

State Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said he worries that political posturing and a refusal by Republicans to even consider tax increases may prevent lawmakers from making the kind of progress the Supreme Court wants to see during the next session.