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State Superintendent: Shut down public schools until lawmakers fund education

KOMO

TUKWILA, Wash. -- Washington's outgoing superintendent is floating a controversial idea on his way out of office: Shut down all public schools in order to force lawmakers to fully fund education.

You don't often hear a state's top educator suggest closing schools, even temporarily, to prove a point. But then again, Randy Dorn is know for his vigorous defense of properly funding schools.

Dorn, the outspoken chief of Washington's schools, toured Tukwila's Riesbeck Aviation High School on Thursday. He was there to congratulate students on their academic achievements, but there was also something else on his mind.

"I'm telling the legislature they need to get busy," Dorn said on Thursday.

For years, he's accused the state legislature of foot dragging and not fulfilling its constitutional duties to properly fund education. Washington's Supreme Court agreed, and fined the state $100,000 a day until it does. That fine has now reached $29 million.

Dorn is set to retire in a matter of months, but first he's challenging legislators with a dramatic idea.

"I say if you don't get it done, you close schools until you get it done," Dorn said. "Or you impose $100,000 a day on individual legislators. You divide it by 147, $700 a day to legislators. Let them pay it, possibly put them in jail."

Dorn also says the state should stop the practice of local levies paying for basic education.

"Half of our local levies are used for salaries," he said. "That's a state responsibility, those things would put a halt to everything and the legislature would get serious."

What makes Dorn's ideas serious is that he has put them in writing in a court brief to the state Supreme Court, which could decide this summer if the legislature is fulfilling the court's order to fund education.

A parent advocacy group is asking the court to penalize the legislature and make them drop corporate tax breaks and use that new money to pay for schools.

"It is a dire situation," said Summer Stinson, a board member for Washington Paramount Duty. "It's such a crucial conversation for us to be having, and we should have been having this conversation for years. We should not be at this night before the homework is due and we still haven't done it."

Dorn said he's planning on filing a lawsuit against the legislature later this month to stop the practice of local levies to pay for basic education. He said wealthy cities can afford to do that, but poorer areas cannot.

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