Dueling school levy reform bills emerge from Senate, hearing set for Thursday

By | April 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

Senate lawmakers unveiled dueling levy reform bills from both sides of the aisle Wednesday, 11 days before the Washington state legislature winds down its regular session.

The two levy concepts will get a hearing at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Under a court mandate from the McCleary decision to fully fund basic education from state coffers, lawmakers say they want to reduce the reliance of local levies from basic education and increase the burden of the cost on the state.

Many districts currently use their local levy money to pay for things that would be considered basic education, such as teacher salaries. Some districts also have a harder time getting levies approved by voters.

However, Democrats and Republicans have differing approaches for how to boost state funding for basic education.

Senate Democrats Wednesday morning rolled out their plan, which includes a levy reform bill dropped by Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, that would fund teacher salaries starting in 2018, and then lower the local levy revenue dollar per dollar. The bill sets the maximum levy authority for local districts at $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, beginning in 2023.

The increased state spending would be paid through a 7 percent capital gains tax that would apply to gains higher than $250,000 for single taxpayer (or $500,000 per couple). It would not apply to houses. Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, introduced that bill and said the proposal would raise $1.2 billion in the next biennium and would apply to about 7,500 people.

Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.

At the Democrats’ press conference. Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, also discussed her bill that phases in an increase in education funding, including a six-year plan for teacher compensation and year-by-year roll out of class size reductions in all grades. She said that gets to the full McCleary plan.

Wednesday afternoon Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, introduced a competing plan, which also would replace local levy money being used for compensation with state money, while reducing the local levy amounts dollar for dollar. His plan caps school levies at $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed value.

However, his bill would be funded through an increase of about $1.50 per $1,000 in the statewide levy for schools, which currently is set at $1.98 per $1,000 of assessed value. However, Dammeier says the change would be revenue neutral, because there would be a corresponding reduction in local levies.

So, while individual taxpayers may see a change in their tax bills, the burden would be shifted to the state common schools levy rather than the local district levy.

His bill also calls for a six-year phase in of a change in teacher pay, making it more uniform across regions of the state. The bill would repeal the teacher COLA that was approved in Initiative 732, and the state would set a statewide salary schedule with adjustments for level of education and for regional variables in costs of living. The phase-in period would allow teachers at a lower salary to catch up with more highly compensated teachers in the same region, and no teacher would see a reduction in pay, he said.

Dammeier said that his plan evens out teacher pay across regions of the state as well as district levy levels, which he says has been an issue of fairness over the the past 30 years.

The solution has “got to be fair, it’s got be equitable and it’s got to be sustainable,” he said.

But Ranker said while Dammeier’s plan will lower taxes in some districts, most districts throughout the state could see an increase in property taxes. He said that’s why he made his capital gains proposal —which would affect 7,500 people — instead.

“We looked different scenarios, and this would raise taxes for many people. That’s why we said we’re going to look at another funding source,” Ranker said.

Hargrove and Dammeier’s bills are scheduled for a hearing at the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.

TVW recorded both press conferences. They will be posted in the archives.

State Supreme Court orders Legislature to ‘quicken’ progress on K-12 funding

By | January 9, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Washington Supreme Court issued a report Thursday ordering the Legislature to come up with a plan by April explaining how the state will fund schools through 2018.

Last year’s budget, which put an extra $1 billion into K-12 education, is “undeniably an improvement” over the previous biennial budget, the court wrote. But the state must demonstrate it is taking “immediate, concrete action” to meet the goal of fully funding basic education by 2018.

“We recognize that the April 30, 2014 deadline shortens the time for the state’s report, but it is clear that the pace of progress must quicken,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the report signed by eight of the nine judges. Justice James M. Johnson is expected to file a dissent.

“Looking at the gross numbers, the overall increased investment in basic education is only a modest 6.7 percent above current funding levels that violate the constitution, and there are not even two full budget cycles left to make up the sizable gap before the school year ending in 2018,” the court said.

The state also “falls short” when it comes to salaries of teachers and administrative staff, which remain “constitutionally inadequate,” Madsen wrote. The budget restored some salary cuts, but continued to suspend cost-of-living pay raises approved by the voters with Initiative 732.

The state is facing steep costs in the future to meet McCleary requirements — $3.35 billion in the 2015-17 budget cycle, and $4.48 billion in 2017-19.

Update: Justice James M. Johnson has filed a dissent here.

Watch the latest Legislative Review right here

By | January 10, 2012 | 0 Comments

On today’s edition: Gov. Chris Gregoire’s State of the State address, the Republican response and a briefing on the McCleary case. Watch it all here.

 

More on the Supreme Court ruling that the state isn’t fully funding education

By | January 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

This morning, the Washington Supreme Court released a long-awaited decision on the McCleary case. Their verdict: The state isn’t doing it’s paramount duty to fully fund education. Read the full opinion here.

While the court said the Legislature has failed at it’s primary function, they did say the state is headed in the right direction: “The legislature recently enacted sweeping reforms to remedy the deficiencies in the funding system, and it is currently making progress toward phasing in those reforms.”

For that reason, the court says it will retain jurisdiction on the case — and keep an eye on legislative progress — to ensure that schools are fully funded by 2018.

This morning, lawmakers at the Associated Press Legislative Preview offered reaction. House Speaker Frank Chopp said he’s “very hopeful” about the ruling because it specifically mentions the reform bill that has already passed the legislature.

Rep. Richard DeBolt said that the ruling underscores the need to fund education first. He wants the Legislature to write an education budget first, then worry about funding everything else with what’s left of the budget.

But Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said she disagrees with DeBolt’s approach and equated it to ignoring other critical parts of the budget, like public safety and social services.

Gov. Chris Gregoire headlined the event and said the ruling “puts an exclamation point” on what she’s been saying for a while.

Attorney General Rob McKenna said at a press conference later in the day that he’s pleased that the court addressed the case. He said the superior court ruling was so far-reaching, it could have made the state and schools vulnerable to endless lawsuits. “This is a much better opinion, a much clearer opinion and an opinion that’s easier to follow,” he said.

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Supreme Court announces McCleary decision, says state is not fully funding schools

By | January 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

This morning, the TVW crew is at the capitol for the Associated Press legislative preview, where legislative leadership, the governor and human services and education advocates are talking to the media  — you can watch along live on TVW.

In the meantime: The Supreme Court announced this morning that the state is not fully funding education. You can read the full McCleary decision here.

We’ll post more on it after the AP forum.

Coming up in just a few minutes: The Supreme Court hears arguments in the McCleary schools case

By | June 28, 2011 | 0 Comments

Today at 1:30, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments in McCleary v. Washington — the court case alleging that the state of Washington does not adequately fund public education. The case will be televised live on TVW.

The case was already decided last year in Superior Court, where Judge John Erlick ruled that the state is not fulfilling its Constitutional duty to fully fund public education. The state appealed that decision.

Read more on the background here. And don’t forget to tune into TVW in just a few short minutes to watch.