Short-term stability for schools

On Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill that provides short-term stability for local school districts by maintaining existing levy funding, while implementing key reforms to increase accountability.

The legislation averts what has been dubbed the “levy cliff” after the Legislature approved a temporary increase in the amount of local property taxes schools can raise. The increased percentage was approved in 2010 during the Great Recession and was scheduled to end after this year.

Original proposals only extended the increased rate one year, but I sponsored amendments to add key accountability reforms for how this money is spent and accounted for that will help address constitutional issues raised by the state Supreme Court in the McCleary education funding case. 

Washington’s public schools currently have an unconstitutional overreliance on local property taxes to pay for what is ultimately the state’s responsibility. When lawmakers sought to review how schools were spending state and local funds, we found that districts were not separating the money, making it significantly more difficult to determine the full scope of the funding issue. Under this bill school districts must keep state and local funds in separate accounts beginning in 2018. 

Additionally, local levies have largely been bargained away for additional pay and benefits and other state responsibilities. Under my amendment future levy proposals would need to be submitted to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for them to certify that funds would not be used for the state’s responsibility before going to voters.

All of these provisions were originally included in the Education Equality Act, the Senate’s comprehensive education funding and reform legislation. 

This is only one small, but important step in our work this year.

Next we must continue work to find agreement on a final solution to ensure all children receive a high-quality education in our state.

Click here to watch my speech on the Senate floor on the bill we passed to provide some stability to our local school districts, while keeping the pressure on the Legislature to complete our work to fully fund a high-quality public education system.