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Education Chief Wants to Drop the Spending Hammer on Lawmakers

In a special Washington State Supreme Court hearing early next month, state legislators may feel a bit like kids called to the principal's office. The high court justices have summoned top lawmakers to explain why they have not come up with a plan to increase state funding for education.The unusual order comes from a high court decision in 2012 which found the state is not meeting its constitutional requirements to full fund basic education.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn filed a new brief Monday with the supreme court which may ratchet up the pressure on the legislature. He wants the justices to hold their legal fire until next year's legislature has a chance to agree on a new funding scheme. But if that doesn't happen, Dorn said, he wants the court to hand the lawsuit plaintiffs, as he put it, a hammer - a hammer that could cut off any state spending which does not apply to basic education.

That possibility has made at least three Washington State non-profit groups nervous. Columbia Legal Services, the Children's Alliance and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance have filed their own briefs, asking the court not to harm programs for low-income kids. They said that critical services will be rationed, and may ultimately be eliminated or reduced to the point of ineffectiveness.

In the last legislature, lawmakers appropriated about 982-million dollars for education over the next two years. But their own estimates put the total needed at 2-point-5 billion dollars to meet the obligations they identified. Dorn said legislators are about 20-yards into a 100-yard dash. They need a big surge in 2015, he said.

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