At a time of uncertainty, and with a seemingly endless stream of bad news, you might wonder what you can do to change our trajectory. You need look no further than your mailbox. Voting yes for your local school levy can change lives, today and well into the future.
Voting to renew your local levy does not mean adding a new tax. It means voting to continue what you’re already paying to support our K-12 public schools. In many states, once a levy is passed it continues unless or until legislation ends it. In Washington state, our levies expire every four years, and we must vote to keep them.
Due to our tax structure, our state school property taxes pay for part of the cost of K-12 education, but not all of it. Our state school property taxes are redistributed through the Legislature and cover the costs of “basic education.” But this falls short of covering the true costs of education — it’s through levies that our local districts meet the needs and desires of their local community. In Bellevue, the gap made up by levies is a significant part — 20% — of our district’s total budget.
Without its levy funds Bellevue would have four nurses — not 24 — for almost 20,000 students. Lake Washington would have 18 fewer nurses, and Seattle and Issaquah would have 59 and 17 fewer respectively. This, at a time when school nurses literally work full days, evenings and weekends to meet the needs of students, as well as act as the interpreters of data and guidelines from the Department of Health and CDC; they provide not only patient-specific guidance to students and parents, but help to shape the plans of their districts, often presenting on health questions to their school boards.
It was by drawing on levy funds that Bellevue was able to improve its school ventilation systems amid COVID-19 and make needed safety and security changes to prevent unwanted intruders from endangering students and teachers; and it’s with levy dollars that Bellevue helps deliver the foreign languages, programs and activities desired by its residents.
But this is not unique to Bellevue. Each district has unmet local needs, whether it’s ensuring that older buses are replaced with newer, more fuel-efficient models, investing in early childhood learning, supporting social emotional learning, providing mental-health supports, or upgrading its website or emergency alert system. It is only through local levies that our school districts — from Renton to Seattle to Issaquah to Lake Washington and beyond — can close these gaps. And if these seem like the necessities that should be covered under any reasonable definition of “basic education,” most district leaders would wholeheartedly agree.
Indeed, the most underfunded of mandates identified by the majority of district leaders is special education. In Bellevue, the gap between what is funded by the state and what is covered through levy dollars is $23 million. This is to address critical needs of students. Every district in our state is struggling to cover these costs, which makes the passage of levies critical, particularly this year, as COVID costs continue to be navigated with the narrowest of margins.
Districts across our state have inspiring vision and mission statements: Seattle commits “to eliminating opportunity gaps” and providing “excellence in education for every student.” Renton seeks to enable “all students to realize their potential and maximize their future opportunities” to ensure they “participate fully in our democracy.” Lake Washington’s commits to preparing each student to “lead a rewarding and responsible life as a contributing member of our community and greater society,” and Bellevue’s vision is to ensure students “learn and thrive as creators of their future world.” These visions reflect our collective aspiration for our children to enjoy a better life than we have today.
Voting yes for your local levy allows you to do your part to make these visions a reality.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.