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State Superintendent unveils plan for education funding

Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn - contributed photo
Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn
— image credit: contributed photo

Washington state Superintendent Randy Dorn unveiled the draft of a bill that “would move Washington state toward the full funding of basic education in the event that the Legislature fails to do so by Jan. 1, 2018,” according to a release from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

According to the office, the draft bill calls for a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax, an increase in the amount of the state property tax that funds education and a decrease in the local levy authority of districts. The state office estimates that this draft bill could “increase funding by $7.5 billion in the 2019-21 biennium.”

“This bill is a blunt but necessary instrument,” said Dorn in a release. “A general increase in the sales tax is not the best solution to this problem. But something has to be done and passage of this bill will, I hope, spur the Legislature into action.”

Dorn and state lawmakers continue to feel the pressure from a 2009 bill that requires the Legislature to “fully fund” education by that 2018 deadline. The 2012 state Supreme Court decision in McCleary v. State of Washington has added to that pressure, and Dorn says this draft bill works within the confines of the current tax structure to make sure the deadline is met.

“I hope the Legislature will get serious about this issue during the next five legislative sessions,” he said. “They need to understand the magnitude of the problem. What I am offering with this bill is a clear path to compliance with McCleary. Given the tax structure currently in place, this is the best way to achieve that if the Legislature fails to act.”

Dorn’s draft bill suggests a raise of 1 percent in the state sales tax. The bill would also ask that the amount of state property tax that funds education be raised to $3.60 per $1,000 assessed value, the “maximum amount allowed by law,” according to the office. Finally, the local levy provision would  mean that funds generated by local levies (would) not be used to pay for basic education costs, such as student transportation; materials, supplies and operating costs; and salaries of school and district staff. Instead, local levies, under this proposed bill, could “still be used for supplemental contrast to compensate staff for extracurricular activities, such as coaching.”

Dorn continued his stern tone in his announcement of this draft bill, saying that the time to act in Olympia has long been past.

“For decades we have studied what it would take to reach full state funding of basic education,” he said. “Twice the Supreme Court has told us that we were not meeting our (state) constitutional obligation. In response, we have placed in law a program of education that will get us to full funding - but we have not taken action to fund that plan and reduce the use of levies. In fact, we haven’t adopted a plan to fund the plan. I urge the Legislature to seriously consider this proposal, even they choose not to create a trigger that raises the sales tax. We know what we need to do. The time for debate regarding what constitutes basic education is in the past. The time for full funding is now.”

 

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