School spending report almost ready for court

Lawmakers offer overview on efforts to improve funding

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MERCER ISLAND (AP) — The Washington Legislature's first report to the state Supreme Court on its progress toward paying the full cost of basic education for kids in public school won't tell the justices anything new.

But the draft report, which was discussed at a committee meeting on Mercer Island on Wednesday, does offer a nice overview of what the Legislature has been up to these past few years.

Lawmakers have passed a plan for reforming the way the state pays for kindergarten through 12th grade education. Several task forces have been formed to find money to pay for that plan, but they haven't found it yet.

And that's the crux of the lawsuit brought by a coalition of school districts, parents, teachers and other education groups. The Supreme Court ruled in January that the coalition was correct in saying the state is not meeting its constitutional duty to fully pay for basic education. The court is asking for yearly reports on the Legislature's progress.

This first report, which is due Monday, was called a baseline for the future by lawmakers and committee staff. The Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation was formed by the Legislature to communicate with the Supreme Court. The real work of education reform is being done in the standing education and budget committees, and a different task force focused on school spending.

But at least one person in the audience left the meeting wondering when the Legislature was going to finish its work.

"I just want to see the conclusion of the education promises I've been listening to since I graduated from high school," said Alfred Frates Jr., a PTA dad who has shepherded three kids through the Shoreline School District. "All we've seen is cuts since 2009, and promises."

In 2009, the Legislature passed the bill quoted by lawmakers and Supreme Court justices as the blueprint for education spending reform. Work since that time, plus the challenges of a poor economy, are spelled out in the draft report to the court.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the evenly divided task force said they thought next week's report will be an appropriate and a good start.

"It provides a strong baseline to show where we are and how we plan to move forward," said Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.