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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sen. Mike Baumgartner files amendment to state constitution calling for Legislature to have sole authority to set school funding

Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, speaks with the Yakima Herald-Republic in this April, 12, 2012, file photo in Yakima, Wash. Baumgartner issued a press release late last week demanding that Gov. Jay Inslee call a special session to override his own veto of a tax cut for state manufacturers. (TJ Mullinax / AP)

OLYMPIA – How to come up with enough money for public schools is likely to consume much of the 2017 legislative session, but a Spokane senator has a suggestion to redirect the debate: Amend the state constitution.

Republican Mike Baumgartner submitted a proposed constitutional amendment that would rewrite the sections of the Washington Constitution that form the basis for the state Supreme Court ruling that lawmakers have struggled with for four years. Senate Joint Resolution 8200 is among more than two dozen bills prefiled Monday for the coming session.

It would add charter schools and technical schools to the institutions covered by the requirement that the state set up publicly funded schools, and say only the Legislature has the authority to determine how much to spend. That would essentially cut the state Supreme Court, which has assessed a $100,000-a-day fine because lawmakers have not come up with a plan that satisfies its 2012 ruling known as McCleary. The constitution says funding public schools is “the paramount duty of the state,” and the court has ruled that the Legislature has not provided public schools with proper funding.

The state’s constitution was written in the late 1800s and “is poorly equipped to define what basic education is in the 21st century,” Baumgartner said.

He concedes that getting a two-thirds approval in the two narrowly divided chambers would be difficult but the amendment could start the negotiations over policy and spending on kindergarten through high school.

The proposal drew quick criticism from Senate Democrats, with Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge Island, a member of the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, questioning Baumgartner’s and other Republicans’ commitment to living up to the state’s responsibility to schoolchildren and the constitution.

To change the constitution, the proposed amendment would have to be approved by a majority of voters next year if it gets the supermajorities needed in the Legislature.