Will “levy lift” legislation lead to McCleary redux? Editorial boards urge lawmakers not to backpedal.

Allowing school districts to use local levies for basic education, including teacher compensation, remains a controversial issue in Olympia. Elements of the current controversy were predicted last summer, following collective bargaining sessions resulting in unsustainable compensation agreements in many districts. Early last month, some legislative leaders pointed out that the budget challenges some districts are citing amounted, at least in part, to self-inflicted wounds

In a Seattle Times op-ed, Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, explains his opposition to the so-called “levy lift.” (For background, see this Seattle Times story and this story in The Columbian.)

Did you hear the one about the state Senate Democrat who was married to a teacher but ended up battling the teachers union because he wanted to make sure that a bill to send hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to school districts to fund needed services like librarians and counselors actually did that?

Sadly, it is not a joke. I am that senator. And this is the case with Senate Bill 5313, which would partially lift caps on voter-approved school levies put in place as part of a legislative package to address the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case. The court had ruled in 2012 that the state failed to adequately fund K-12 education.

This year, the teachers union and many school officials are demanding the change, arguing that schools need more local money for programs. But when I proposed to keep that local levy money from being diverted into staff salaries — something the districts supported — the teachers union accused me of cutting teachers’ pay.

The op-ed walks through the legislative McCleary response, concluding that the lift would trigger another court challenge.

If teachers believe the state is not adequately paying them, they need to ask the Legislature for a raise. Anything else runs the risk of creating McCleary 2.0.

The Seattle Times editorial board warns, again, against the levy lift.

The levy lift violates the spirit of the McCleary deal…

Shifting more school funding responsibility from the state to local taxpayers means the quality of a child’s education will once again be determined by his or her ZIP code. Voters in wealthier areas are simply willing to agree to higher tax rates, and their higher property values translate into more taxes collected…

The Washington Constitution says public schools should be funded by state government. The Supreme Court says the old way of paying for education was over-reliant on local levies. Lawmakers have made some good progress toward fixing the system. Don’t backpedal now.

Similar points are made in this editorial in The Columbian.

Efforts in the Legislature to remove a lid on local school levies represent a step backward for school funding in Washington. Rather than invite a return to inequitable funding and open the door for lawsuits, lawmakers should provide state funding where necessary and adhere to a hard-fought agreement.

Add this to the tax and spending issues being wrestled with as legislators approach their scheduled adjournment date of April 28.