More Education Cuts Could Mean a Contempt of Court Ruling, Warns Lawyer

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On Monday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn sounded the alarm about further potential cuts in state education funding. A couple weeks prior, given a dismal revenue forecast, Governor Chris Gregoire asked all state agencies--including OSPI--to come up with ways to slash 10 percent of their budgets over the next five months, according to Dorn spokesperson Nathan Olson. As Dorn noted in his press release, education is a special situation: A judge has already ruled that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional mandate to make education funding its "paramount" duty.

In an interview this morning with SW, Tom Ahearne, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in that lawsuit on behalf of numerous school districts and education groups, said he will ask the judge to find the state in contempt of court if it goes through with additional education cuts.

In his February order, King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick set no timetable for when the state must amp up its education spending (see pdf of Erlick's decision) . He left it up to the Legislature to determine precisely what it means to provide "ample" school funding, as the state constitution requires. But, Ahearne notes, Erlick did demand "real and measurable progress."

"Going backwards isn't progress," Ahearne said.

The lawyer adds that he would further use new cuts in education spending to bolster his argument in an appeal that will be heard by the state Supreme Court, saying essentially that the state is going from bad to worse. He says he will ask the Supremes to "leave the state no wiggle room" in complying with a new order, should the judges rule in his favor.

The Supreme Court has not yet set a date for a hearing on the matter.

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