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Dorn: As economy improves, support schools first

Friday - 2/17/2012, 8:38pm  ET

By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP
Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) - The good news in this week's new Washington state revenue forecast has drawn the attention of everyone who wants some money for their department or program.

But Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said Friday the state Constitution and the Supreme Court give Washington only one choice: pay for education first.

Dorn says the improved revenue forecast gives some weight behind his call for no more education cuts, and he thinks it's time to invest some new dollars in education.

"It's not just Randy Dorn saying you have to fund basic education, it's the court system," Dorn said.

The Legislature must demonstrate to the Washington Supreme Court that it takes seriously the court's recent ruling on a statewide school funding lawsuit, Dorn said, and should do so by making a down payment on fully paying the cost of basic education.

Washington's revised revenue forecast gave Dorn some ideas about where to get the money for that down payment.

The revised forecast issued on Thursday shows $96 million in extra revenue, plus about $340 million in newly expected savings from less reliance on state services.

On Friday, Dorn passed out a list of how he would spend that money, including all-day kindergarten for everyone, class-size reductions in kindergarten through fourth grade, school transportation, and technology improvements.

If Dorn's entire proposal is adopted by lawmakers writing the state budget, they would put $410 million back into education.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has said one side of her caucus wants to protect education as much as possible while the other side wants to prevent further reductions in the state's social safety net. Sen. Ed Murray, a lead budget writer, said his reading of the caucus is that education is less at risk than it was before.

The Washington Constitution makes education the highest priority of state government, but that hasn't stop lawmakers from cutting the money they spend on schools.

In the past decade, education spending has gone from close to 50 percent to just above 40 percent of the state budget, despite the fact that some education spending is protected by the constitution.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled in January that the state isn't meeting is constitutional obligation to amply pay for basic public education.

The justices endorsed the reform work the Legislature has already started, but said the judiciary would keep an eye on lawmakers to make sure they fully implement education reforms by 2018.

The court has scheduled a hearing in mid-March to discuss how that oversight will be done.

Dorn suggested Friday that the court might consider having his office keep track of the Legislature. Earlier this week, the House offered its own proposal to establish a special legislative committee to oversee the process.

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AP reporter Mike Baker contributed to this story from Olympia.

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Donna Blankinship can be reached at http://twitter.com/dgblankinship


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)