Lawmakers propose an increase in school levy rates

Would increase levy cap from $1.50 to $2.50

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Voter-approved school levy lid rates would rise from $1.50 to $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property under Senate Bill 5313, currently under consideration in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The measure would also add a hold-harmless provision for school districts that would receive less in funding assistance from the state and would allow school districts to raise additional funds through levies needed for extracurricular programs and activities that many say are currently being cut.

Levies under this bill would revert back to the most recent rate approved by voters within the $1.50 to $2.50 range. If a district’s most recently approved levy was over $2.50, they would revert to the cap of $2.50.

The bill continues to create differences in funding formulas based on school district size, with higher dollar-per-pupil rates for school districts with more than 9,600 full-time-equivalent students.

The McCleary decision in 2012 required the Legislature to fully fund “basic education.” The Legislature had been found in contempt of court until 2018 when it adopted a plan to put billions of dollars toward K-12 education in coming years. As a part of its McCleary solution, the Legislature reduced the levy cap to its current rate of $1.50.

Local Effort Assistance, or levy equalization, helps fund school districts at a disadvantage in the raising of enrichment levies because of low property values.

The main complaint to SB 5313 is that schools could lose state assistance funding if they do not raise their levies.

Emily Carmichael is a parent and a member of Washington’s Paramount Duty, an organization advocating for progressive new revenue to fully fund public schools. Carmichael testified in support of the bill at the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.

“We are here today to prevent devastating and inequitable cuts to public schools across the state,” Carmichael said. “It’s not just Seattle. In Highline, Yakima, Vancouver, North Kitsap and beyond, districts are laying off teachers because of the levy caps.”

Dan Steele from the Washington Association of School Administrators spoke on the differing opinions on the bill from across the state.

“If you as a legislature decide to actually increase the levy capacity, we strongly urge you to include some kind of clear limits so that any new levy dollars do not go out the school district door inappropriately,” Steele said.

Steele’s association is also concerned the hold-harmless provision is only for one year, and urges the Legislature to extend it to two years.

Gretchen Maliska, a member of the North Thurston Public Schools board of directors, testified in support of the bill, saying that her district would lose the ability to collect $24 million dollars in levy funds. Their local levy was previously set at $3.40 and has now been reduced to $1.50 under current law.

“I know that our community expects us to provide the same quality programs to children as we did before the McCleary fix, however, this is impossible given our loss in local levy authority,” Maliska said.

Melissa Gombosky of the Spokane, Evergreen and Vancouver Public Schools testified in opposition of the bill saying it would cause the school districts she represents to lose funding.