The Lake Washington School District, like most other school districts in the state, has relied on local taxes to pay for basic education. The State Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision found that this was unconstitutional and ordered the state to fully fund basic education.
In July 2017, the state Legislature passed HB2242 that shifts school funding from local school districts to the state. Teachers already saw their salaries increase for the 2017-2018 school year and they’ll see another pay increase in 2019 with the minimum teacher salary rising to $64,000. Money for special education, improved technology, gifted programs and facilities maintenance is being directed to every school district in Washington state through the OSPI.
HB2242 will raise state property taxes to $2.70 per thousand in 2018-2021 and to $3.60 per thousand in 2022. Property tax bills mailed in late February will include a significant increase in state taxes reflecting this higher rate. The Supreme Court has indicated that HB2242 doesn’t fully fund basic education so state taxes may go even higher.
The state says that “basic education” includes the regular educational programs (reading, writing, math, history, gym, etc) in our schools. Basic education also includes special education, special needs, gifted programs, choice programs, transportation, teacher training, career and technical education and transitional-bilingual.
Historically, the state wasn’t funding basic education, especially special education, and school districts passed local levies to make up the difference. The district’s expiring four-year operations levy collected $66 million annually in order to supplement the cost of basic education that the state didn’t fund. With HB2242, school districts will no longer need or be permitted to use local levies for basic education.
As state taxes increase, local school levies should decrease. In fact, HB2242 specifically prohibits school districts from funding basic education through local levies. Starting Sept. 1, 2019, school districts will only be allowed to spend operations levy money on “enrichment.”
Enrichment is restricted by HB2242 to extracurricular activities, early learning, school nurses, extended school-year days and extra teacher training days. Enrichment money cannot be spent funding gifted or choice schools, on special education, or any other basic education programs that the state must fund.
Lake Washington School District’s Proposition 1 on the February ballot asks for $64 million annually from 2019 through 2022 — calling it a “replacement” levy for the expiring four-year levy that collected $66 million annually to fund basic education.
This new four-year levy is not quite a “replacement.” Funds from Proposition 1 can be spent on basic education until Aug. 31, 2019. For the remaining three years (2020-2022) levy funds can only be spent on “enrichment.”
Asking voters for $64 million in 2019 to fund school operations as the state transitions to fully funding basic education is reasonable. Asking voters to continue providing $64 million per year in 2020-2022 is excessive and unjustified. We’re supposed to see our local school taxes go down as state taxes go up!
Both the Issaquah and Kent school districts are running two-year operations levies in recognition of the funding shift that is taking place. Approving school levies has always been automatic, but 2018 is different. Reject Proposition 1 and tell the district to re-run this levy in April or August with reduced funding in 2020 through 2022.