Senate Republicans work on education plan. Seattle Times writer delves into property tax “levy swap.” Don’t expect swift resolution.

In Crosscut, Tom James reports on education finance discussions in the Senate Republican caucus. 

The broad strokes of an education plan drafted by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, also have begun to emerge: at least a half-billion dollars in additional state funding for public schools and a focus on retaining flexibility for local school districts.

For their part, Democratic lawmakers are talking about $1.6 billion for teacher salaries and school personnel in the next two years to meet the state Supreme Court’s mandates under the McCleary decision for better education funding, and Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed some $2.75 billion.

We wrote earlier about the the education funding disputes marking the beginning of the legislative session. At the time, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate indicated that they were optimistic and would be presenting a plan soon. James writes that the work has been ongoing.

Democrats have complained that Republicans appeared to have started from scratch on their education plan only at the January start of the legislative session. Republican sources contradict that, saying Braun began working on the plan months ago.

The article goes into Senate Republicans’ consensus-building process, which involves trade-offs among members with different views on, among other things, the role new taxes will play in any funding plan. A key element, about which we’ve written often (most recently here), involves property tax levies.

James writes,

One idea that has been widely circulated among Republicans is a so-called levy swap, where local property taxes are replaced by increased state property taxes. That would address the Supreme Court’s finding that a heavy reliance on local taxes impermissibly favors students in wealthier districts, while at the same time theoretically keeping average Washingtonians’ tax bills about the same.

Brier Dudly, an editorial writer in the Seattle Times, recently wrote a column explaining challenges faced by backers of the levy swap. We recommend reading the piece in its entirety. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s also an argument that it’s unfair some parts of the state pay higher local-tax levy rates to fund schools.

This deserves a closer look, since the Republicans’ plan to generate billions more for schools is likely to call for adjusting and evening out levy rates.

It sounds fair. But for their plan to work, it would have to substantially increase property taxes — and therefore the cost of living or operating a business — in some areas, particularly King County. Other areas could get tax cuts.

Read the rest of the piece for illustrations of how the levy swap works. As Dudley writes, many owners of high-value properties are not wealthy and the levy rate is not the only important determinant of how much property tax an owner pays.

Underlying the debate is yet another reflection of the state’s urban-rural divide. It’s probable – and appropriate – that element of property tax equalization, including the levy swap – will be part of the Legislature’s education funding solution. But reaching that resolution won’t be easy.