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Attorney: Lawmakers failed goals for education

Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press

SEATTLE – The attorney representing a coalition of parents and education groups that sued the state over school funding told the Washington Supreme Court on Wednesday that the Legislature is still avoiding its constitutional duty to schoolchildren.

In a filing to the court, attorney Thomas Ahearne wrote that he was disappointed with a legislative report to the court last month.

Ahearne said lawmakers seem to think that they can postpone fulfilling the court’s order to put more money into education because of the economy, but his clients believe state officials need to obey the constitution even when times are difficult.

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 close to 50 percent to just above 40 percent of the state budget, despite the fact that some education spending is protected by the constitution.

A month ago, Washington lawmakers filed their first annual progress report in answer to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the lawsuit known as the McCleary case. The brief filed Wednesday is the coalition’s response.

State Rep. Gary Alexander, co-chairman of the legislative committee charged with making these reports to the court, disagreed strongly with Ahearne’s assessment of the Legislature’s action on school funding.

Alexander, R-Olympia, said he felt the Legislature was making good progress in creating a plan for finding more dollars for education and he was optimistic the 2013 Legislature would focus on education funding.

Ahearne’s court filing said the Legislature not only failed to make progress on the Supreme Court’s two goals – to demonstrate steady progress toward implementing the reforms promised previously and to show real and measurable progress toward paying for those reforms by 2018 – but it chose not to make progress.

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