Despite significant effort by local school leaders to persuade the 2018 Legislature to fix substantial school funding inequities adopted in 2017, very few changes were made. Unfortunately, our prediction that there would be funding winners and losers came true; it is now the law in Washington state.
The reasons for these inequities are multi-layered, but the simple fact is that the legislative “fix’ to the McCleary decision left Thurston County school districts in the losing column. Once again, we are urging lawmakers who believe they solved the K-12 funding problem to circle back and fix the flaws.
This is confusing for many people because there was, indeed, an infusion of new dollars by the Legislature to public education since the 2017 session. However, the methodology for distributing the new dollars was flawed and, as a result, some districts received significantly more funding than others.
Just one district in our region received extra “regionalization” dollars. The elimination of “mix factor” funding to help pay highly experienced and educated teachers penalized our districts as well.
The inequity is further exacerbated across districts because the Legislature reduced the ability to make up for state deficits through voter-approved local levy funding. The new state law imposes an arbitrary tax limit of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value on our local levies. For many of our districts, this means our ability to backfill state funding shortfalls has been cut in half or more. Remember, these are the same levies our voters overwhelmingly approved.
This levy impact did not, however, affect all districts equally. Districts to our north who have high assessed property values were already generating a 28 percent enhancement to their district budgets through a local levy of $1.50 rate or less and saw no decrease in their levy funding. This penalizes Thurston County districts and rewards districts with much higher property values.
Additionally, our state is still not fully funding the cost of mandated special education services, nursing services, counselors, administrators, social workers, safety personnel and health care costs. We also continue to rely on our levy dollars to support essential basic education support functions in our schools.
While the Governor’s recent budget proposal is hopeful, we also know that any legislative solution needs to be fair to all taxpayers, equitable to all school districts, and economically stable.
Thurston County voters have long supported our public schools, which has made the comprehensive student programs we offer possible and resulted in higher graduation rates. Without significant and swift action from our legislators, our districts will be forced to implement painful cuts to staff and programs our respective communities voted to support. At the same time, other “winning” school districts are investing in new programs and enhancements to their schools.
The educational opportunities a student receives should never be dependent on their zip code. The time is now for the Legislature to do the right thing for all students in our state, not just those students living in “winning” districts.