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Originally published Friday, December 21, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: Court right to hit lawmakers over education mandate

The state Supreme Court is underwhelmed with the Legislature’s efforts so far to make good on the McCleary funding mandate. Rightly so.

Seattle Times Editorial

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STATE lawmakers must do more than bicker in task-force meetings to make progress on its court-ordered mandate to fully fund a 21st-century public-education system.

That should mean a robust system from early learning to higher education.

The state’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding has fixated more on revenue and less on important education goals and reforms. Its last meeting ended with unimpressive recommendations. Efforts to decouple revenue from accountability should cease.

The state Supreme Court is monitoring the Legislature’s progress on education funding under its year-old McCleary v. State ruling. Justices are underwhelmed with the progress so far, a point made fully in the court’s terse takedown of the Legislature filed Thursday as a court order.

The court’s landmark education-funding ruling demanded meaningful progress. To comply, lawmakers must offer a more-robust conversation with clear linkages between revenue and a vision of where the money would go and how its effectiveness would be gauged.

Simply pouring new money into an old, dysfunctional system is a non-starter. Partisan divisions must be eliminated. Democratic lawmakers must broaden their view of the challenge before them. The task is not to find a way to get a few billion dollars more from taxpayers for the K-12 system, but rather how to better spend the money it has now and grow the state’s investment in education, from early learning to higher education.

Republicans’ call for reforms, goals and accountability measures are not far-fetched, but fiscally responsible. GOP lawmakers should not prematurely rule out new revenue. Some will be needed. Start first with drawing a line against any further cuts in early learning, K-12 and higher education and focus on reforms.

The McCleary ruling pointed lawmakers to a framework, the 2009 education-reform law that laid out a vision, including more early-learning programs, all-day kindergarten, smaller classes and school transportation.

The next update from the Legislature to the court should reflect stronger, swifter progress.

“In education, student progress is measured by yearly benchmarks according to essential academic goals and requirements,” wrote Chief Justice Barbara Madsen in Thursday’s order. “The state should expect no less of itself than of its students.”

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