A whole lot of inaction in Olympia inspired new memes and a viral hashtag on social media before the Legislature sent Gov. Jay Inslee a bill aimed at giving school districts relief from a looming “levy cliff.”
After weeks of inaction, Republicans in control of the state Senate on Wednesday went from zero to 60 on a bill to ensure school districts don’t lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars of local levy dollars.
That’s the latest development in a slow-moving debate over school funding in Olympia, where the legislative sclerosis even fueled a new viral hashtag — #walegmovies — on social media.
Here’s a roundup of the McCleary action over the past week:
On Monday, The (Everett) Herald reported on a bipartisan group of lawmakers coming together to negotiate a final McCleary fix.
Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Eight legislators, two from each of the four caucuses, will hold the first of several scheduled meetings this month to hammer out an approach that can pass muster with the Supreme Court and win backing of a majority in the Legislature, plus the governor,” reporter Jerry Cornfield wrote.
That was the exact mission charged to the education funding task force that also had two lawmakers from each caucus. The panel deliberated for seven months but still failed to produce a final set of recommendations for a McCleary fix before the Legislature convened in January.
All but two members of the new group were part of the original task force, which raises questions about whether the outcome will change this time.
— Melissa Santos (@MelissaSantos1) March 6, 2017
Late Monday, negotiations broke down in the GOP-controlled Senate as Democrats tried to force a vote on the levy bill, which is designed to delay the so-called “levy cliff,” a scheduled reduction in the amount of money that each district can collect from local taxpayers.
That could cost districts about $350 million if the state doesn’t increase its education spending by that amount, and House Democrats in January approved a measure to offer districts relief.
Republican Senate leaders on Monday quickly voted to adjourn and killed debate on the proposal, prompting a fierce back-and-forth in front of reporters.
(The months-long debate over the levy cliff also inspired some clever memes from teachers and education-policy advocates.)
— Summer Stinson (@Summer_Stinson) March 7, 2017
On Tuesday, House Democrats upped the pressure on Republicans and released an interactive map that showed how much money each district would lose without a levy cliff extension.
The map, which also included lawmakers’ contact information, was viewed more than 17,000 times.
Later Tuesday, as lawmakers talked long but accomplished little, some Olympia insiders took to Twitter to entertain themselves, as David Gutman wrote for The Seattle Times.
“Thus was born the hashtag #walegmovies — combining the drudgery of a Legislature that seems like it’s making little progress on its biggest issues with, well, movies.”
#walegmovies McCleary & Present Danger
— Mutton of the Sea (@muttonofthesea) March 8, 2017
Finally, as the Legislature faced a 5 p.m. bill-cutoff deadline Wednesday, Republicans in the Senate allowed a vote on the levy cliff bill. It passed on a bipartisan 48-1 vote.
The Senate bill included new language that would tighten restrictions on how districts spend local taxes.
Education Lab reported last month how reliance on those taxes to pay for teacher salaries is a big reason why the state still hasn’t settled the landmark McCleary school-funding case.
By a vote of 87-10, the House quickly approved the levy cliff bill Thursday morning. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters later that he would sign the legislation as soon as it was available.
Now, all lawmakers have to do is find billions of dollars to fully fund the entire public school system in Washington.
The regular legislative session ends April 23.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate passed a resolution to kill a set of school accountability rules set under President Barack Obama’s education department.
The House of Representatives passed a similar resolution last month, and President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign it.
— David Berg (@ibdb2u) March 8, 2017