Local lawmakers split on Supreme Court’s role in education funding

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

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On the same day students across Clark County returned to the classroom, the state’s top court and Legislature faced off in Olympia over the future of public school funding.

The hearing in the Temple of Justice on Wednesday was the latest showdown stemming from the 2012 McCleary decision where the court declared the level of public school funding unconstitutional. The Supreme Court justices wanted to know why state lawmakers shouldn’t be held in contempt for not coming up with a detailed plan — as ordered by the court — to adequately fund public schools across the state.

In keeping with custom, justices did not make a ruling from the bench. But local lawmakers had a wide-ranging reaction to the latest showdown.

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said it’s time for the court to take a bold step. He said holding lawmakers in contempt could add the extra pressure the Legislature needs to find a solution.

“They could shut down all the school districts in a more radical ruling,” he said.

‘I think it’s dangerous’

Across the aisle and in the upper chamber, Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said justices are treading into dangerous territory and leading the state toward a constitutional crisis.

“I think they should remove themselves from the conversation,” Rivers said. “Certainly they have elevated it and it’s beneficial; but to make demands and force things, I don’t think that is helpful. I think it’s dangerous.”

Rivers added it took the state “30 years to get into this mess.”

“To say we need to get out in two years’ time, that’s silliness,” Rivers said.

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, a career educator who sits on the House Education Committee, said the truth is “nobody has a real clear answer on what the court can and should do.”

But here’s what she does know: “We’re 47th in the nation for (small) class size. We have reforms on the books we haven’t funded and we have kids struggling to meet standards. It’s the state’s responsibility to step up and put funding in place.”

Jeff Snell, the deputy superintendent with the Camas School District, said it’s evident that pressure on lawmakers is needed.

“We’ve seen some minor enhancement in our funding, but mostly a shift in our funding,” Snell said.

But he believes ultimately it will take urging from their constituents.

“The judicial and legislative branch will go back and forth, but ultimately the people have to say this is a priority for us; investing in our youth will make a difference in our state,” Snell said.

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