Republicans controlling the state Senate deserve credit for putting out a comprehensive plan for funding K-12 schools a week ago. The proposal has intriguing elements worth considering.
The GOP’s teacher-pay proposal includes a boost to $45,000 a year for starting teachers and a housing allowance for those teaching in high-rent areas.
Though the plan has serious flaws in the way it raises new K-12 funds, it does bring fresh ideas for allocating state funds for basic education. The Legislature is under state Supreme Court orders to fix the system before the fall 2018 school year. In a nutshell, the state must end its unconstitutional reliance on local property tax levies that supplement K-12 employee pay and benefits.
Sen. John Braun, sponsor of Senate Bill 5607, wants to ditch the school-funding approach that lawmakers have been using to phase in improvements to school funding. The current system allocates state dollars to school districts using a standard staffing model based upon student headcounts.
Braun, a Centralia Republican, wants to replace that with a per-pupil funding formula and a guarantee of a base level of funding. He would earmark extra dollars based on a student’s status or learning needs — which could be due to family poverty, homelessness, enrollment in special education or English-as-a-second-language programs, or enrollment in highly capable and career and technical programs.
SB 5607 shot through the state Senate on a 25-24 vote Wednesday with members of the Republicans’ majority coalition supplying all the votes. The Democratic caucus was uniformly opposed. The bill gets a committee hearing in the Democrat-controlled House on Monday.
Unfortunately the GOP plan replaces local voter-approved school property-tax levies with a statewide tax rate of $1.80 per $1,000 of property value. This cuts property taxes in rural areas but hikes the tax rates in areas with high property values. The plan acknowledges that another $700 million in state revenue is needed, but it doesn’t identify the source.
Clearly there are fairer ways to find revenues to bolster school funding and end the reliance on local levies for basic education costs.
The Senate wants to send its package to voters in the fall, which if rejected could delay funding for schools. House Democrats have a plan but have not moved it to a vote. Gov. Jay Inslee also has a proposal, which invests nearly $3 billion of new dollars into K-12 schools. Unlike the Senate, Inslee relies on new sources of revenue — including a carbon tax for fossil fuels and a capital gains tax on high-earners — to avoid cutting to higher education, the social safety net or state worker raises.
Solutions to the K-12 funding challenge have slowly unfolded since the court’s 2012 McCleary ruling. The GOP’s concrete plan readies the Senate for negotiations with the House and governor.