School districts saved for another year

The larger issue remains: fully funding public education
By Brian Soergel | Mar 16, 2017

Although state politicians still haven’t solved the long-term issue of funding public education, it appears the state’s school districts won’t be falling off the so-called “levy cliff” this year.

Both the House and Senate have passed legislation to postpone the levy cliff that would have resulted in massive budget cuts to K-12 schools across the state. Without the extension, many local school districts would have seen a reduction in their ability to raise property tax levies. About $350 million in property tax support was at stake.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill on Wednesday, March 15.

“Failure to pass the levy cliff would have meant millions in budget cuts to local schools this year – $14 million to Edmonds School District alone,” said Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), who represents the 21st District. “Passing this legislation simply allows schools to use the same level of local levy money that they have been using. Without it, our schools would have had to lay off teachers and cut other services.”

Both the House and Senate bills were fairly similar, Peterson said, ultimately achieving the same goal of keeping school funding predictable for this year.

“This is a huge, huge victory for our local schools, which would have faced massive cuts and the prospect of budgets that would have laid off teachers and other staff,” said Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood).

“The Mukilteo School District would have had to cut $5.1 million. This means our children can expect a stable school year through next year, and their schools won’t face the prospect of later having to recruit to replace teachers that might have left for other districts or professions. I hope now we can build on this progress to finish the job of giving all our schoolchildren the education they deserve.”

The levy-cliff vote means that school districts can spend their property tax money for the 2017-18 school year. In the city of Edmonds alone, almost 47 percent of collected property tax collected is designated for the Edmonds School District.

State politicians still haven’t come to a decision on how they will fund education in the near future. It was in 2012 that the Washington State Supreme Court, in its McCleary v. State of Washington decision, determined the state was not fulfilling its constitutional requirement to fund basic education for all students, including compensation for basic-education teachers.

The court required the state to fulfill its duties and provide annual reports following the legislative session in order to ensure “steady progress” toward a 2017-18 school year deadline.

“What happens during the Legislative session regarding the McCleary decision and the levy cliff is important, and we are watching closely and sharing our concerns with our elected officials,” said Edmonds School District Superintendent Kris McDuffy, who added that up to 100 jobs might have been lost with the property tax money. “We need to determine our priorities and goals regardless of what happens at the state level.”

Peterson acknowledged that the harder work of answering the Supreme Court's McCleary Decision is still a major hurdle.

“While I am not part of the negotiating team, I believe the ultimate solution will need to include a sustainable source of revenue for school districts across the state, better pay for teachers and other educators, and making sure that our struggling school districts have better access to equitable funding,” he said.

“There’s a lot more work to do. Agreeing on a compromise for the final deal to fully fund education will require tough decisions from both sides. Now that we have all agreed to do the right thing by our children and our school districts, we can do the hard work of finding a solution that finally fulfills our paramount duty.”




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