Legislators return to Olympia to close budget shortfall

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Washington state legislators return to Olympia to begin their regular session, as they work to close the state's $1 billion budget deficit.

In past years, legislators have cut funding for public education to help make up for the state's financial shortfalls.

But a few days ago, the state supreme court ruled that Washington state is not amply funding education under the state constitution - a decision that could put more money back in classrooms.

Jean Ryckman graduated from Pasco High School back in 1962, and says public education should be the state's top priority.

"I do not have children or grandchildren that are in the Pasco School District, but I am a citizen of Pasco and I realize how important education is to the entire community" said Ryckman.

For the past several years, education has been on the chopping block when the state finds itself in the red.

Legislators say they're funding public education with 41% of their budget compared to 50% a few years ago.

Now, with levy equalization money and other state revenue sources on the line, funding is more important than ever according to administrators like Pasco School District superintendent Sandra Hill.

"We fully realize that we're in a tough economic situation, but we really want the legislature to look at its priorities and put K - 12 up at the top" said Hill.

Legislators are now back in Olympia - and a recent ruling by the state supreme court may keep cuts away from K - 12 education.

Last week, the court upheld a ruling in a King County lawsuit that Washington is not fulfilling its obligation to fund public schooling.

Local legislators are cautiously optimistic that the decision will force Olympia to put schools first.

"I'm hopeful that it will, but I've been hopeful other years. But for the first time, we have the weight of the state supreme court" said Rep. Larry Haler (R).

Back home, education supporters are also hopeful for an end to cuts.

But they realize the road ahead isn't an easy one.

"It is a crisis, because we all know that the state is struggling with its finances" said Ryckman.

This legislative session lasts 60 days.

But the legislators we spoke with today don't believe they can finish filling the budget gap within that time.

They say they'll most likely have to return to another special session later this year.

All our local school districts have levies coming up on next month's ballot.

Those levies pay for basic education and operating expenses - such as books, transportation and athletics and the arts.