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Supreme Court ruling on school funding won't bring changes soon

South Kitsap school board members who welcomed last week’s state Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit over public education funding also cautioned that it will be a few more years before school districts see any meaningful change.

“I don’t see this decision having any fiscal impact on us for next two or three years,” school board president Kathryn Simpson said.

The high court ruled that the Legislature is not adequately funding basic education, as required by the state constitution.

However, the court’s decision does not require any specific or immediate action, but rather serves notice that the Legislature must by 2018 find a way to implement the education funding reforms in a bill passed in 2009.

Simpson said the Supreme Court “did a very unusual thing, they chose to retain jurisdiction to make sure the Legislature would comply.”

But the most obvious reason not to expect increased school funding any time soon is the $1.5 billion state budget shortfall that will dominate the current legislative session.

“Of course, this is a really bad time to be telling the Legislature they’ve got to come up with more money,” said South Kitsap school board member Keith Garton, who is a middle school science teacher in the Peninsula School District.

The short-term benefit for school districts such as South Kitsap may be that the Legislature won’t cut levy equalization funds as part of its budget-balancing process.

The other thing the court ruling may prevent legislators from doing, Simpson noted, is shortening the school year or reducing basic education requirements to cut expenses.

“What this decision has basically told them is you cannot reduce these things just because you have a fiscal desire to,” she said. “The state can’t just say we can’t afford the basic education you’re supposed to have.”

Garton and Simpson both said that if the Legislature complies with the court ruling in the next few years, school districts won’t have to ask local taxpayers to approve levies to pay for what should be provided through adequate state funding for basic education.

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