Inslee signs bill assuring levy lid until 2019 expiration

By Grace Swanson
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Governor Jay Inslee signed into law March 15 legislation that will keep the school levy lid at 28 percent for most schools until 2019. That lid was scheduled to drop to 24 percent in 2018.

“By this bill we are going to rescue our schools from the levy cliff,” Inslee said during a press conference.

A levy cliff can occur when the levy lid, the amount that local school districts can raise through voter-approved special operating and maintenance levies, is lowered without additional funding coming from the state. This can lead to teacher dismissals, program cuts and students without
access to resources.

Lowering the levy lid would have made a difference of up to $1.4 million in the Blaine school district’s budget for next school year, said Amber Porter, district director of finance and operations.

The law takes effect on July 23.

Inslee also added that passing this bill, SB 5023, won’t remove the legislature’s motivation to put forth a plan to fund basic education as mandated by the Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary decision.

“It clears the way for legislators to focus on the larger task at hand – fully funding education this year,” he said.

In 2010, the court determined the state wasn’t fulfilling its constitutional duty to fund basic education and ordered the legislature to implement a funding plan by September 1, 2018. Meanwhile, the legislature’s delay in meeting its duty has accumulated a daily $100,000 penalty, imposed by the Supreme Court in 2015, which has now reached $58 million.

Currently most districts may raise up to 28 percent of their operating revenue through voter-approved property tax levies. A levy base is calculated by adding state and federal funding. Voter-approved tax levies are intended to fund programs and expenditures outside of basic education, but districts sometimes use these funds to pay for basic education programs and functions when state dollars aren’t sufficient.

The House passed SB 5023 March 9, with 87 in support, 10 opposed and one excused. March 8, the Senate passed the bill with 48 in support and one opposed.

Senator Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island) was the main sponsor of the bill. This is her first
session as a senator.

Amendments to SB 5023 put forward by Senator Joe Fain, R-Auburn, were adopted March 8 before it earned final passage. The changes require districts to create separate accounts for local and state funds. Also, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) must approve a local levy before a district can bring it to the voters.

In January the House passed a companion bill, HB 1059, freezing the levy lid at 28 percent. Democrat Senators tried and failed to bring the bill to the floor a few days later. HB 1059 was given a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, but no further action was taken.

(This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Reach reporter Grace Swanson at grace.swanson47@gmail.com)

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