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Washington State Politicians Wrangle Over Funding-Formula Deadline

Politicians in Washington state are at odds over when they should be able to come up with a new school funding formula as mandated by the state's supreme court—and contempt-of-court fines continue to pile up in the meantime.  

The state's Senate education committee approved a measure Thursday that calls for a plan by the end of 2018. But House members, along with Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, say the state should have a new formula by 2017.  

The state's high court, however, already is fining the legislature $100,000 a day until it comes up with a new formula to comply with the court's 2012 McCleary ruling that said the state's public schools are entirely way too dependent on local property taxes and that the state must pour millions more dollars into the formula. In the meantime, the fines are going into a special account for education. 

Legislators are stumped on finding where to get that money from and coming up with a way to equally distribute it across the state. Most crucial is finding a way to boost teacher pay.  

At the beginning of this year's session, a bipartisan task force proposed measures in both the House and Senate chambers that would establish an education task force to come up with a funding source to increase teacher pay by the end of 2017.  While the full House voted to keep the deadline of 2017 intact, the Senate measure, only approved by its education committee, would put the deadline at the end of 2018.

"There's no reason that we should ever think that a roomful of two or three or four legislators should ever be able to, you know, force the entire legislature to take something without conversation and amendment," said Republican Sen. Joe Fain, according to the Seattle Times.

But Senate Democrats are frustrated.  The amended plan "makes zero commitment to ... increased state funding for the public schools, at all," said Democratic Sen. Christine Rolfes during a news conference, according to the Seattle Times. 

The Senate proposal will be considered by the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further discussion. 

Inslee is pushing for the state to come up with a solution by the end of the 2017 session.  

"That is the date, the 'IOU' if you will, to our children," he said, according to the Seattle Times. "So I'm hopeful that legislators will take a careful look at this and ultimately be able to fulfill that commitment."

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