The Legislature is currently in session in Olympia, and our school district colleagues across the state are asking for a fix that will provide sustainable school district funding in the future.
We agree that the current school funding system needs to be fixed. At current funding levels, the majority of districts in Washington are projecting they will be insolvent within four years unless they cut programs and staff.
Some large urban districts are arguing that the easiest path to sustainability is to increase the amount of taxes school districts can ask for locally. In other words, “to raise the levy lid” back to where it was before the Washington State Legislature changed education funding as the result the McCleary lawsuit, which determined the State had not been meeting its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education.
We do not agree that raising the local levy lid is a good idea.
The path of least resistance is not usually the way to lasting long-term solutions. To resolve the McCleary decision, the Legislature “swapped” state and local education-related taxes – increasing the state tax and lowering the local tax. They took the former local levy dollars as state money and then returned them to the districts as state funding. In 2018, education-related taxes went up during this transition year. The “new” state tax went into effect and the “old” local tax hadn’t transitioned down yet. In 2019 the new lower capped local levy rate goes into effect and significantly reduces district’s local tax revenue.
Now legislators realize the new funding model will not sustain our schools, so they are considering maintaining the new state tax AND taking the cap off local levy rates. We are opposed to this fix for two reasons.
First, in Ferndale, we proposed and passed a capital projects bond based on the new tax structure the Legislature put in place. We made good faith tax projections to our citizen owners based upon commitments made to us by our representatives in Olympia. If the Legislature comes back to us now and tells us we have to raise more taxes at the local level to maintain our programs and staff, they will have broken their commitment to us.
Second, while raising the levy lid might be an expedient solution, and it will probably work in some districts that are bigger and wealthier than ours, it is a plan that creates more inequity in an already inequitable system. We will be right back where we were before McCleary with the quality of a child’s education being determined by where he or she happens to live.
We ask our legislators to consider the taxpayers and the children in small rural districts like Ferndale. We ask that the state not place the burden for funding schools back on local communities. Instead we urge them to look for solutions that increase equity in all of our state’s educational systems. It is after all their paramount duty.
Dr. Kevin Erickson
Ms. Candice Wilson
Mr. Hugh Foulke
Ms. Lee Anne Riddle
Mr. Andrew McLaurin
This letter first appeared as a Guest Column in the Ferndale Record and can be found here: https://www.ferndalerecord.com/legislature-dont-break-mccleary-promise/