Despite (or because of?) 2019 changes, school funding issues linger after legislative session. The challenge that won’t go away.

The Tri-City Herald editorial board wants lawmakers to get to work quickly on reforming education funding. They begin with a premise:

From Vancouver to Spokane, Washington school leaders are being forced to make tough decisions on how to keep programs going with significantly less money.

Saying districts in the paper’s area are hit particularly hard, they identify a culprit:

This wretched situation is the fault of a legislative “fix” to inequitable school funding that lawmakers came up with two years ago.

After reviewing the solution – capping local levies and significantly boosting the state property tax to provide full funding for basic education – the paper notes that this year legislators responded by lifting the levy lid to allow districts to ask their voters for more money. (We linked to previous commentary on the issue here and here.

The editorial agrees with critics of the levy lift that say the decision sets the state on course to once again face an equity and adequacy challenge in court.

Republican lawmakers and education leaders we’ve talked to say they fear a “McCleary 2.0” in the near future. Those concerns are valid.

Lifting the local levy caps might help some school districts get through in the short-term, but it puts most school leaders in an awkward position with voters.

And it sets the state right back to the inequitable school funding system lawmakers tried so hard to get away from in the first place.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports that at the Washington State School Directors’ Association’s regional spring meeting Yakima Valley lawmakers emphasized their concerns with this year’s changes to the school funding fix.

Most of the evening’s discussion was on education funding, which the lawmakers said shifted further out of balance through a bill that lifted local funding caps.

“We did pass the levy lift, I guess, and so the bigger districts got richer and the smaller districts remained the same,” [Sen. Jim] Honeyford, [R-Sunnyside] said. “My concern is that sets us up for another McCleary case: As soon as someone can file a suit, I think they will.”

The story includes this comment from Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima:

“What we created again is just an unequal system for our students,” he said. “That’s what that bill did, even though it says, ‘Oh, you can’t use that money for basic education.’ I can guaran-damn-tee you they’re going to use it for basic education.”

For the 2019–21 biennium, the Legislature appropriated $27.307 billion for public schools (a 20.3 percent increase over 2017–19). The Legislature also increased local levy authority for districts beginning in calendar year (CY) 2020. (As part of the response to McCleary, the Legislature had previously reduced local levy authority for CY 2019.)

There have been many stories this year about teacher layoffs and budget problems at the districts. But, as Neal Morton of the Seattle Times wrote earlier this week, “Months after school districts in Washington lobbied for a financial lifeline, the painful budget cuts and staff layoffs they anticipated largely have not come to pass.”

Go to the WRC post for more detail, including a district breakdown of “hold harmless” funding. While there’s a lot of money being distributed, it’s very likely that education funding will be before the lawmakers again very soon.