Some lawmakers want to make it easier for school construction bonds to pass in Washington state.
Under a bill proposed by 44 Democrats and one Republican, a school bond on a general election ballot would need only a simple majority to pass — instead of today’s required 60 percent approval.
At least one recent school bond in Highline Public Schools, which gained 55 percent approval in the Feb. 10 special election, would have succeeded if a simple majority was all it took. In the past five years, three bond measures in the Lake Washington School District have also gained more than half the popular vote, but failed because they fell short of the 60 percent mark.
If lawmakers back the idea, voters would ultimately get the final say; lowering the 60 percent supermajority to 50 percent would require a Constitutional amendment, which voters must authorize.
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The House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday. You can watch live video of the meeting, which starts at 8 a.m., here.
Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, the bill’s sponsor, says the current system is broken.
“Why is 54.6 percent a landslide for a politician, yet a failure for our public schools?” Gregerson said in a statement shortly after Highline’s $376 million bond issue failed last week. “The majority of voters in the Highline School District said yes to a new school construction bond. Yet it won’t happen.”
November elections, Gregerson said, have better turnouts than special elections. She said a simple majority would help districts pass bonds so schools could build more space to accommodate lower class sizes required under Initiative 1351, which voters approved last fall. Besides, Gregerson said, in 2008 lawmakers and voters agreed that a simple majority was enough to pass school levies, a similar type of property tax increase.
Also on the House Education Committee’s agenda for Thursday is a bill that would allow only three charter schools to open in a school district at any one time.
In other education news, a bill to strengthen the state’s law on when to use isolation and restraint tactics with special-needs children passed the House Education Committee Tuesday. Proponents of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, say the rules today aren’t clear enough.