In July 2017, the State Legislature passed HB2242 that shifts school funding from local school districts to the state in response to the Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision. HB2242 will raise state property taxes to $2.70 per $1,000 assessed value in 2018-21 and to $3.60 per $1,000 assessed value in 2022. Property tax bills mailed in late February will include a significant increase in state taxes reflecting this higher rate. The Supreme Court has indicated that HB2242 doesn’t fully fund basic education so state taxes may go even higher.
The Lake Washington School District placed Proposition 1 on the Feb. 13 ballot. It is a four-year levy that the district is portraying as a “replacement” levy for the expiring operations levy that collected about $66 million per year for basic education from 2015-18. This new levy is asking for $64 million per year for 2019-22, but it is not a replacement because HB2242 is changing the way that schools are funded.
The state says that “basic education” includes the regular educational programs (reading, writing, math, history, gym, etc.) in our schools. Basic education also includes special education, special needs, gifted programs, choice programs, transportation, teacher training, career and technical education and transitional-bilingual.
Historically, the state wasn’t fully funding basic education, especially special education, and school districts passed local levies to make up the difference. With HB2242, school districts will no longer need to use local levies for basic education. In fact, HB2242 specifically prohibits school districts from funding basic education through local levies. Starting Sept. 1, 2019, school districts will only be allowed to spend operations levy money on “enrichment.”
Enrichment is restricted to extracurricular activities, early learning, school nurses, extended school-year days, reduced class sizes and extra teacher training days. Enrichment cannot be spent funding gifted or choice schools, on special education or any other basic education programs that the state must fund.
LWSD’s Prop. 1 is referred to as a “replacement” levy but that is not quite true. Funds from Prop. 1 can be spent on basic education until Aug. 31, 2019. For the remaining three years (2020-22), levy funds can only be spent on “enrichment.”
Asking voters for $64 million in 2019 to fund school operations as the state transitions to fully funding basic education is reasonable. Asking voters to continue providing $64 million per year in 2020-22 for “enrichment” is questionable. We shouldn’t be spending such an immense amount of money on enrichment — as it’s currently defined — without a clear understanding of how the money will be spent. Taxpayers also need relief from higher taxes that the state will be imposing. We are supposed to see our local school taxes go down as state taxes go up!
Both the Issaquah and Kent school districts are running two-year operations levies in recognition of the funding shift that is taking place. Approving school levies has always been automatic, but 2018 is different. Prop. 1 should be rejected by voters. LWSD should re-run this levy in April or August with reduced funding in 2020 through 2022.