More on Senate GOP school funding plan: How the levy adjustment affects districts

Friday the Senate GOP released its long-awaited plan to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s order to fund fully basic education, i.e.,  the McCleary decision. Our post spoke of “no increase” or “new” state taxes.  Although the context made clear that the funding was to be largely addressed by increasing state property taxes while lowering local levies, our phrasing should have been more precise.

The new funding element, which they call the “local effort levy,” is a variation of the levy swap. Our reference to no new or increased state taxes refers to fact that the proposal essentially rearranges the existing tax burden, rather than relying on a new tax, like the carbon or capital gains taxes previously proposed, or a major bump in existing tax rates.

The Seattle Times offers a good illustration of how it might work.

The state Senate Republicans’ education-funding plan, released Friday, includes a swap that calls for a new state property tax for schools, largely replacing local school levies. Under their plan, money wouldn’t be redistributed, but property owners in some districts would end up paying more school taxes than in the past — and some would pay less. That’s because the proposal calls for everyone to pay the same rate: $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Under the GOP proposal, Seattle’s current local schools property-tax levy rate would increase, from $1.28 per $1,000 in assessed value to $1.80, which GOP leaders said would mean an average increase of about $250 a year.

In Crosscut, Tom James writes,

Democrats have repeatedly suggested that the state needs more money overall, while Republicans have argued that part of the answer is simply shifting existing state revenues to schools…

Under the per-student model, schools receive a flat $12,500 per student from the state. Students that fall into special categories, like students who don’t speak English as a first language, or students with learning disabilities, would qualify for additional funds, also distributed per-student. 

Still, the total amount of revenue the Republican plan would inject into schools from state coffers was unavailable Friday, at least from[Sen. Joe] Fain, the only Republican who showed up to the Senate.

At least one indication of the total impact of the plan can be gleaned from numbers already available from the state, however. In 2015, the state property tax was $2.14 per $1,000 of assessed property value; the Republican plan would increase that by $1.80, to $3.96 per thousand dollars of value. In 2015 that $2.14 tax generated about $2 billion — so some simple arithmetic indicates the increase would yield about another $1.6 billion yearly, or around $3 billion every two years.

The GOP plan involves more than funding. As the Seattle Times editorial board writes, education reform is not only about money

THE Legislature’s efforts to fix the way Washington pays for public schools isn’t all about the dollars. It’s also about improving student success. But in the end, the state needs a way to pay for education reform, along with accountability to make sure the money is spent as intended…

Education reform, better outcomes, accountability and money are all tightly intertwined.

The Legislature has put about $4 billion more into public schools during the five years since the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on school funding. The work isn’t finished, although the current K-12 state budget totals $20 billion….

With proposals from the governor, legislative Democrats, and the Senate GOP most of the elements required for a McCleary fix are now in place. We’re encouraged that this can be the year in which lawmakers will be able to reach a bipartisan resolution of the long-running education reform challenge.