Give the new local-levy system some time to work before throwing it away.
In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court ruled the state was shirking its duty to amply fund public education for the state’s 1 million schoolchildren. The court also determined the school funding system was too dependent on local levies to pay for basic education.
After six years and billions of new dollars invested in K-12 education, the governor, the superintendent of public instruction, Seattle Public Schools and some state lawmakers seem to have forgotten the essence of the landmark McCleary ruling. They are poised to open a door that would allow a return to an unevenly funded school system that shortchanged too many students.
Proposals from Gov. Jay Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal would allow property-rich school districts to tap their affluent voters to increase their school funding way beyond the limits set by the Legislature in response to the 2012 McCleary ruling. They would raise the new 12 percent local levy limit to 28 percent and 22 percent respectively. That would be on top of the state property tax increases levied mostly on more affluent districts, with the understanding local levies would be reduced.
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Stop right there. Those levy proposals would put Washington back on the path toward woefully inequitable school funding. And probably another school funding lawsuit. Once again, rich districts would have nearly unlimited dollars to spend and poor districts would struggle along.
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Inslee argues that increasing the amount of money local school districts can raise with property-tax levies helps them meet local needs and is not unfair because local voters will decide whether to pass new taxes. But the governor is missing the point. Voters in richer districts have the financial freedom to tax themselves more. In less wealthy areas, they don’t.
This is the worst kind of regressive taxation, and the children will suffer.
Give the so-called McCleary solution a chance to work. That deal, which takes effect in 2019, pays for education with increased statewide funding and lower local property taxes, and limits how local taxes can be used to pay for schools.
Reykdal and Inslee have said school districts should have the freedom to create the supplemental education programs their local voters desire. More school money means better equipment, modern textbooks, a longer school day, superior football teams and better paid teachers.
That’s true for all schools. But when only some districts can afford these extras and others cannot, that is neither fair nor equitable. If the Legislature wants to help the districts that were arguably underfunded in the new system, adjustments should be made to the state formulas. But throwing the whole system away is a mistake.
When local dollars are a larger part of the school funding equation, more affluent districts have richly funded school systems and poorer areas get less. A school district with lots of local dollars can afford to hire more teachers, school nurses and librarians.
If the citizens believe schools need more counselors or teachers or better books, then the state should pay the bill.
Washingtonshould strive to fully fund excellent schools for all. Do not go back to the old levy system and once again have ZIP codes determine the quality of local schools.