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Lawmakers still working on education funding fixes after McCleary

The McCleary fix to Washington’s education system has evolved into new funding problems that lawmakers are now attempting to correct.

When the Legislature crafted the McCleary fix in 2017, lawmakers increased the statewide property tax, spread that money among all 295 school districts, and capped the amount of local levies they could collect. State money was intended to offset whatever losses districts faced because of the levy cap.

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That sounds simple enough, but two years later, lawmakers are still wrangling over school levies.

The McCleary fix left many districts – with larger properties and wealthier residents — coming up short because of levy caps. This caused millions of projected shortfalls and layoffs. Now both the House and Senate are responding with bills to tweak the levy cap. One such bill is HB 2242.

Dave Mastin with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Education attended a recent hearing on the House bill. He argues there are two different definitions of basic education – a key point in the McCleary decision.

“The definition at the legislative level is that we need to fund one nurse for 6,500 students — one nurse for 6,500 students,” he said. “We need to fund one social worker for 18,000 students. You can see while basic education in the legislative, constitutional framework is one thing, it means something different to the school districts where clearly we need more social workers and more nurses than that. And I could go on with several different examples, but that that’s why we’re here asking you to look at levies again.”

Travis Hansen is with the Deer Park School District just outside of Spokane. He spoke to the needs of poorer districts.

“Unfortunately, proposed legislation significantly reduces enhancement money available to Deer Park,” he said. “While the levee swap introduced in 2242 to reduce the per-student funding gap that existed between property-rich and property-poor school districts around the state, it did so at the expense of what many districts statewide have provided to their communities. It’s clear that good levee policy that is good for a community like Deer Park, is not necessarily good for districts like Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane.

Both the Senate and House bills have moved on with the expectation that more details will be hashed out in the coming weeks. But the bills aren’t reciveing full support. Republicans like Senator John Braun are not happy.

Majorities in both chambers are proposing now that we double our local levy authority and that’s very troubling for me,” Braun said. “It sets the stage for us to go down the path of not fully funding education at the state level. I think it is a very dangerous bill that sets us up for failure in the future and it’s probably the thing I’m most worried about during this session.

Democrats, and the state schools chief, say something has to change or many districts are going to face millions in shortfalls and are already preparing for layoffs.

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