The Washington Senate approved a one-year delay on what’s commonly called the “levy cliff,” averting a $358 million cut to K-12 schools, last Wednesday, March 8. The House followed Thursday, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed it on March 15.
Senate Bill 5023, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), delays a scheduled reduction in the money school districts can collect through voter-approved local property tax levies.
Mercer Island stood to lose $1.8 million in local dollars in 2018 if the levy limit was not extended.
“This is a big victory for all the parents, teachers and administrators in our state. Thanks to this bill, schools no longer have to wrestle with impossible decisions about whether to cut critical staff and services,” Wellman said in a press release. “I’m glad we were able to find bipartisan consensus on this important measure for the state’s 1.1 million students.”
The House passed SB 5023 with 87-10 after the Senate approved it 48-1. This bill will freeze the current levy lid at 28 percent until 2019; the lid was scheduled to drop to 24 percent in 2018.
In recent weeks, many school districts across the state were forced to develop two separate budgets in anticipation of the levy cliff. Districts officials had been preparing to send layoff notices to teachers and classified staff.
“Now that this distraction is behind us, we can continue to work on a compromise on the larger issue of school funding and make sure the final solution substantially increases funding for our public schools,” Wellman said.
Lawmakers said that delaying the levy cliff will not take the pressure off to come up with a comprehensive education funding plan. In the 2012 McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington was violating the state Constitution by underfunding schools. The Legislature resolved to come up with a bipartisan solution in the 2017 session.
“While this is a one-time fix, it is a critical one,” stated Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island). “It creates certainty for our schools’ budgets, our teachers and, therefore, our families.”
The Mercer Island School Board discussed the district’s funding challenges at its March 9 meeting. A more detailed plan will be shared at the regular meeting on March 30, when more information from Olympia is available, according to the School Board’s agenda.
“We appreciate the support of our 41st elected officials in getting this done now, with special thanks to Senator Lisa Wellman for sponsoring the legislation,” said Superintendent Dr. Gary Plano. “Now the hard work of meeting the requirements of McCleary are front and center.”
Grace Swanson, WNPA Olympia News Bureau, contributed to this report.