I’m reminded today how more than seven years ago, a group of Republican senators proposed a way to significantly increase state funding for public schools and in turn take the pressure off local school districts to come up with money for basic education.
I was a co-sponsor of that landmark plan, introduced by former Senator Joe Zarelli. It would have simultaneously reduced the local-levy authority of all school districts by approximately half and increased the state property-tax levy by an equivalent amount.
The idea, as my former colleague explained it at the time, was to give school districts a more dependable and more equitable funding source while reducing property taxes for a majority of school-district taxpayers.
Olympia was under full Democrat control in 2010. Our bill got what amounted to a courtesy hearing and vote from the Senate’s K-12 education committee, but that was it.
By the time our Majority Coalition Caucus took over leadership of the Senate in 2013, the Supreme Court had already ruled in the McCleary case. Outside forces also had mobilized against the idea of what they disparaged as a “levy swap,” even though it was the most constitutionally sound approach.
The new budget and education-funding plan being voted on by the Senate and House today certainly reflect the spirit of that original Senate Republican proposal. But for students and hard-working taxpayers across our state, the 2017 approach is a good piece ahead of the 2010 proposal.
To start with, more school districts will see an increase in funding. And by simultaneously increasing the state property tax for schools by 81 cents while capping local school levy rates at $1.50 (the local-levy average across Washington for 2016 is $2.54), more property owners will see tax relief.
Better yet, today’s legislation surpasses what Republicans offered in 2010 because it ties funding to the needs of students, instead of adults. While that has attracted strong labor-union opposition, there is much for teachers to like – even if they don’t want to say it publicly.
Lately I’ve been referring to the McCleary situation as a generational issue, because of how the inequities in the public-school system crept in over decades. It’s too bad that Republican efforts to head off the situation in 2010 couldn’t gain traction. But seven years later, I’m glad we finally have a generational solution at hand.