Washington Supreme Court tells Legislature to keep trying to reach agreement on education plan

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SEATTLE — The Washington Supreme Court told the state Legislature on Thursday it should keep working on its education plan.

The court said, in an order signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, it would not be issuing any sanctions related to the court's contempt order on education funding until after the special session that began Wednesday.

The state attorney general asked the high court on Monday to give the Legislature more time to finish its work and the court did that on Thursday.

The court ruled in September that the state was in contempt for failing to submit a complete plan for implementing its response to the 2012 McCleary decision that ordered the state to fix the way it pays for public schools.

The court gave the state until the end of the 2015 legislative session to finish its work before it would reconvene to consider whether sanctions were necessary.

The court has now extended that deadline until after the special session or after the governor acts on the state budget or the last McCleary-related bill passed by the Legislature.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson noted in his request that lawmakers had yet to agree on a state budget for the next two years and had not yet come to agreement on other bills related to the McCleary decision.

In his request, he outlined all the bills still up for debate and explained why they would fulfill the court's ruling.

Republicans and Democrats in both houses have different ideas about how to meet the requirements of the court's McCleary decision.

Lawmakers from both the Senate and the House met together during a Thursday afternoon House Appropriations Committee meeting to discuss their competing proposals and how they might work together to reach a compromise.

Most of the discussion focused on how to end the state's reliance on local school levies to pay part of the cost of basic education and whether changes in the state tax system and the way teachers are paid would be necessary to reach that goal.

Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the local levy question the most complicated part of complying with McCleary.

Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, said there's time in the special session to find a good compromise between all the competing proposals. Others call the ideas on the table a menu from which to pick out the parts that will end up in the final proposal.

"We have a pretty good feel for what we need to do. Now we just need the political courage to do it," Magendanz said.

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