The levy-reform proposal released this week by state lawmakers is one of multiple such plans proposed recently. While lawmakers agree it won’t move forward, it could be a step closer in finding a McCleary education-funding fix.
OLYMPIA — The levy-reform bill released this week is at least the fifth proposal in recent months to address the conundrum of how to use less local property-tax money for education.
And yet, the bipartisan group of lawmakers who drafted Senate Bill 6130 conceded Thursday it won’t get a vote in this legislative session, because there’s no agreement on how to fund it.
Shifting basic-education spending now paid for with local tax levies onto the state is estimated at $3.5 billion every two years, according to lawmakers Thursday at a news conference on the bill.
“That price tag is the single reason that this problem hasn’t been addressed” in decades, said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.
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The Washington Supreme Court has held the state in contempt for not doing enough to plan for full K-12 school funding per its McCleary decision. As part of the decision, justices ruled that by underfunding education, the state has forced school districts to rely too much on local property-tax levies to make up the difference.
In 1977, local levies were limited to 10 percent of what districts got from the state and federal governments, but that number has crept up to 28 percent in most districts. Property-rich school districts have an easier time raising money while poorer ones struggle.
Lawmakers are also still trying to find compromise on a 2015-17 operating budget, which also includes other education funding to address the McCleary decision.
Unlike other bills this year, Senate Bill 6130 has Democratic and Republican co-sponsors.
Among other things, the plan would phase in a streamlined salary system for educators, set guidelines for how local levy dollars could be used and create an education funding council to give recommendations to legislators.
“It represents much greater bipartisan work, [a] much greater look at all of the details necessary to address such a complex situation,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup and the lead GOP lawmaker working on the bill.
Getting legislators to agree on tax increases needed to fund the plan may not be easy. Other plans this year have proposed taxes on personal income, capital gains on assets, and a hike in property taxes in some areas. There’s also a House Democratic plan that would create a framework and timeline for finding a plan in the next few years.
Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, Maury Island, said in a statement that Democrats would support SB 6130 “if the revenue source is fair and progressive.”
Even if the revenue side isn’t yet figured out, Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said unveiling the bill gives stakeholders like educators a chance to discuss it.