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I caught myself making a joke the other day about how refreshing it was to speak to someone not running for political office. Since June, members of The Seattle Times editorial board have interviewed about 130 candidates running mostly for the Legislature and offering recommendations to voters about who is the best choice.

But my joke is not fair at all.

Running for office is hard work — the campaigning, the fundraising, the doorbelling. Serving is even harder, and will be especially so this next year. Lawmakers, and those who are aspiring, are willingly asking to be thrown headlong into what will be one of the most difficult Legislative sessions in state history — all with the state Supreme Court glaring over their shoulders.

Earlier this month, the high court held the state in contempt because justices felt the Legislature was not showing enough progress toward satisfying the court’s 2012McCleary v. State of Washington ruling that the state was not fully funding education. Though the court’s initial deadline was 2017-2018 and the Legislature has put an additional $1 billion into public K-12 education, the justices wanted more. But they opted not to impose sanctions until after the 2015 legislative session.

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In a two-year budget cycle, the estimate is that an additional $3 billion is needed.

Too many candidates are adamant that the McCleary challenge is only about the money — and some new tax revenues might be needed. But others want to see a combination of finance reforms and education reforms to improve outcomes for students who are being left behind in the current system. That must be part of the approach.

The Seattle Times editorial board argues state policymakers should not confine the focus to K-12 education, but expand it on both ends. Children who don’t know to turn an upside-down book right-side up — a test a kindergarten teacher once told me she used on her students’ first day — are already behind as they enter public school. And a high-school education is not enough for many jobs in our increasingly complex society.

Higher education should be a priority, too, because it contributes to our state’s greater good. Make no mistake, in this McCleary session, higher education and many other things will be vulnerable.

Thoughtful candidates disagree on how to get there. Among those we’ve interviewed, a few stand out for their clear-eyed view of the daunting task, earnest pragmatism and understanding that this is an opportunity to better serve Washington’s youngest citizens.

The two lawmakers at McCleary’s ground zero, budget chairs Ross Hunter, D-Medina, in the House and Andy Hill, R-Redmond, in the Senate, are both of the Microsoft culture. Though they have philosophical differences, their wonky determination to do the job is encouraging. On the Democratic side, others that impressed are House Finance Chairman Reuven Carlyle of Seattle; Rep. Cyrus Habib from Kirkland, now running for the Senate; Rep. Tina Orwall of Des Moines; Rep. David Frockt of Seattle; Rep. Eric Pettigrew of Seattle and Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens.

Among Republicans are Rep. Chad Magendanz of Issaquah; Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn; Mark Miloscia of Federal Way, a former Democratic lawmaker who is running for Senate; and Ed Barton of Bothell, who is a newcomer candidate for the House.

So what to do? Ask the candidates. Study their positions on issues important to you.

On the opposite page, the editorial board shares a few of the most important questions members discussed with candidates. We also make our own arguments about what the right direction should be.

Agree or disagree, you can start your own conversations with your lawmakers or their challengers about what is the right direction for the state. Throughout the week, we will be running guest columns by people proposing their own solutions for the state’s problems.

Kate Riley’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her email address is kriley@seattletimes.com