2017 Legislative Session | Inslee signs bill assuring schools’ 28 percent levy-lid secure until 2019 expiration

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Wednesday legislation that will keep the local school levy lid at 28 percent 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,” he said during a March 15 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.

The law takes effect July 23.

He 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 that the state wasn’t fulfilling its constitutional duty to fund basic education and ordered the Legislature to implement a funding plan by Sept. 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, that 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.

SB 5023 was passed by the House 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.

Sen. 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 Sen. 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 & Means, but no further action was taken.

Grace Swanson is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.

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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