We have reached House policy committee cut-off week. Friday, Feb. 17, is the final day for House committees to consider bills introduced in the House. As a result, we are now focusing our time on final action on House bills already approved by their committees.
This email update is the second in a series focused on the results of my recent legislative survey. Seven out of ten people who participated in the survey are opposed to raising taxes to increase the state's allotment for education funding. Because of your response, this week's topic focuses on the need for education funding reform.
Education funding reform
In the past four years, the Legislature has put $4.6 billion new dollars into K-12 basic education. However, the remaining piece of McCleary is not simply about more money. It is about the state taking on the full responsibility of basic education staff and teacher salaries. A large portion of those salaries are supplemented by local district tax levies. Fixing McCleary means putting an end to this over-reliance on local levies.
Levy tax rates vary widely across our state. This is a problem. Here's why — it's about fairness for all school kids. It is not okay to deny some children educational opportunities based on their zip code.
Article IX of the Washington State Constitution calls for a “uniform system of public schools.” If the money available for basic education varies significantly by district, how can the system be uniform? Education funding disparities end up hurting the neediest students. The people in our district already know that, because many of our school districts are unfairly affected by the current system.
According to Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and counsel to the Leadership Conference Education Fund:
“Our nation must dramatically increase the resources available for public education and, simultaneously, change the way that educational resources are distributed so that there is true equity in America's classrooms.”
Equality for our students
After carefully examining the governor's, and the House Democratic Caucus (HDC) plans, I do not believe they adequately addresses this equality issue for our students. The proposals seem to ignore the core McCleary holding and sets us up for another battle with the State Supreme Court.
Using the same regressive education funding system, the plan's only “plan” is to add more money to K-12 spending. There aren't any reforms to ensure districts do not use the levies to back-fill basic education salaries. Instead, they would actually increase the amount of local levies that districts can collect.
With a $6.5 billion price tag, both plans require new taxes on capital gains income, small businesses, and energy. They also repeal the sales tax exemption for non-residents. This is bad for businesses, bad for people, and bad for our students.
One Washington Education Equality Act
In contrast, the Senate's proposal seeks to address the McCleary decision head-on. It answers the equality issue by radically changing the current education funding model. Instead of paying school districts based on the number of school employees, teachers and staff, they would receive a per-pupil allocation. It sets a minimum funding level of $12,500 per pupil and pays school districts based on the number of students enrolled.
Additional funding would be available for students with needs like special education, language barriers, and low-income. It also provides additional payments to help school districts unable to raise enough money to meet the minimum per student ($12,500) funding requirement.
The proposal's next big leap is levy reform. It includes implementing a statewide property tax of $1.80 per $1000 assessed value. This is less about 30% less than the current local levy average. This would reduce statewide property taxes by about $2.4 billion statewide.
The transition would add about $1.4 billion in new education money every two years – without imposing new taxes. Overall, I believe this plan has the best answer for a dependable and equitable funding for all students in our state.
Listen to my recent radio interview with KRXO on education funding by clicking here.
School construction assistance for rural school districts
I was glad to co-sponsor a bill to change the eligibility requirements for construction funding for small, rural school districts. These are typically school districts with fewer than 1,000 students. The problem is they often can't raise construction money through levies that other larger, or even mid-sized, school districts can. These small districts need help.
Here is a statistic that best illustrates this need – nearly one in three Washington school districts with fewer than 1,000 students have received any money – not a single dollar – from the School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP). House Bill 1923 would create a school construction fund assistance grant program for smaller school districts. It is scheduled for a vote by the House Capital Budget Committee Friday, Feb. 17.
Your legislature works best to represent the people when you are involved. If you did not get an opportunity to participate in my recent legislative survey, and you would like to share your comments, concerns or ideas, please contact me. My contact information is listed below. Thank you for the honor of representing your interests in Olympia.