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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Charter schools survive, bigger issue looms

Though politicians accused each other of “playing politics” – in an election year no less – it looks as if lawmakers in Olympia have pinned down a supplemental budget and rescued charter schools, for now.

It took a special session, but that’s becoming a tradition (six out of the past seven years). Just another sign of our contentious times.

Legislators decided early in the session to push the need for a long-term, equitable funding source for basic education to yet another task force, where members will work on a plan to make a plan in time for the next legislative session.

Meanwhile, the 2018 deadline looms, and all eyes turn to the Supreme Court, which retained jurisdiction over the issue and has already held lawmakers in contempt once for foot-dragging.

Will the justices be content with this latest effort? Stay tuned.

With the biggest challenge put off, lawmakers were able to find more money for fighting wildfires and for mental health services. The latter is also an issue where the courts had to provide the impetus.

Lawmakers also found money in the transportation budget to boost pay for state troopers to try to stem the flow of personnel to higher-paying law enforcement agencies. Some moves were made to address the teacher shortage, such as making it easier for out-of-state teachers to get certified and making it more appealing for retired teachers to become substitutes. Increased pay is caught up in the final budget negotiations.

Charter schools were given a last-minute reprieve, with the House finally agreeing to a bill that would tap lottery money rather than the general fund, which the Supreme Court has ruled is off-limits.

The worry was that the House, whose leader is not a charter school fan, would allow the Senate bill to die. However, Democrats only hold a slight edge in that chamber and this is an election year. So the House voted to give voters what they wanted when they passed the charter school initiative.

It remains to be seen whether the fix is on solid constitutional ground, but at least the schools won’t be forced to close their doors after this year. That’s a relief to the staff, students and their parents at the Spokane charter schools, which appear to be living up to their promise of providing substantive, engaging alternatives to traditional instruction.

In any event, legislators may need to revisit this issue in next year’s session, which will be dominated by the urgent need for a final plan to fund basic education.

That won’t be easy, because it involves local levies, which could change property taxes, especially in richer school districts. There will be winners and losers. But that discussion is long overdue, and lawmakers only have themselves to blame for turning it into a cram session.

Looks like that new tradition of going into overtime will remain intact next year.