Legislative divide on school levy reform continues: “planning for a plan” is harder than it sounds

Efforts to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate have reached a crossroads (another crossroads?) in Olympia. The Associated Press reports,

The Washington Senate has taken a detour on the road toward meeting the Supreme Court’s demand to fix the way the state pays for public schools.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday evening passed a new approach to dealing with local levy dollars that lawmakers said either makes more progress or wrecks the Legislature’s chances of reaching a bipartisan deal this session.

The committee vote fell along partisan lines, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing. The AP story puts the action in context.

A bipartisan group from both chambers met over the summer and fall to work out a compromise on this issue. The bill passed by the House is similar to the language the task force agreed to before the session began. The Senate bill takes a different approach.

…The levy issue is the last hurdle to bringing lawmakers into compliance with the Washington high court’s so-called McCleary decision. It’s also what lawmakers call the most challenging part of the work.

We previously wrote about the legislative “plan for coming to a solution” here . The bill passed by the committee must be passed by the Senate before the chambers attempt to hammer out a compromise. One change getting a lot of attention:

The Senate bill also gives lawmakers more time to figure out how to replace local levy dollars with a statewide funding source. The deadline in the Senate proposal is Dec. 31, 2017. The House requires the Legislature to finish this work by the end of the 2017 Legislature.

Generally, legislators cannot dictate the decisions of the next Legislature. Still, as we wrote earlier,

…it was never realistic to expect major funding decisions and commitments to be made during this short session. Gov. Inslee referred to the legislation in his State of the State address,

Legislation has been introduced that contains the first step so we can be successful when we return next year. I’m confident we’ll take the second step next year because every time legislators have set a deadline for themselves on this issue, they have met that deadline. Our next deadline requires the Legislature to fully fund basic education in the 2017 legislative session, and there’s no reason we can’t do that.

The Washington Research Council also posts on the changes made in the Senate committee.