Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

GOP School Funding Plan Would Nearly Double State Property Tax, Lower Local Levies

Colin Fogarty
Northwest News Network files

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants a new capital gains tax and carbon tax to comply with a court order to fully fund public schools. Republicans in the state Senate Friday instead proposed to solve the state’s school funding crisis by raising the state property tax while lowering local rates.

Republicans propose a new, permanent state property tax levy to fund public schools. It would be capped at $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value. That new levy would be added to the current property tax levy which is, according to the Washington Department of Revenue, about $1.90 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2017. At the same time Republicans would eliminate the current local maintenance and operation school levies.

“We’re talking about changing the way, radically changing, historically changing the way we fund education, a $20 billion program,” Senate budget chair John Braun said.

Asked about the tax impact to homeowners, Braun said some would see a “modest” decrease in their property taxes, while others would experience a “modest” increase. The Republican plan is designed to take the pressure off local school levies to fund basic education as required by the Washington Supreme Court.

Sponsors say it would add about $1.4 billion in new education dollars every two years.

The Republican plan would also adopt a new school funding model that would guarantee a minimum per-pupil spending level of $12,500 per year. Extra dollars would flow to the per-student funding formula based on factors like poverty, special needs and language barriers. For instance, there would be a $1,500 increase in per-pupil funding for a homeless student.

Other elements of the plan include:

  • The elimination of the state salary grid for teachers. The new minimum salary for teachers would be raised to $45,000 and teachers could compete for performance bonuses of $25,000 to $50,000. Teachers in high-cost districts would also be eligible for a housing allowance of up to $10,000.
  • The elimination of levy equalization dollars.
  • Repeal of I-1351, a class-size reduction measure passed by voters in 2014.
  • Prohibits teacher strikes.
  • Beginning in 2020, school districts to go to voters requesting “excess” levy dollars for non-basic education spending items, subject to a uniform 10 percent levy lid.

A spokesman for Washington’s teachers’ union quickly criticized the plan.
“It’s really just a Trojan horse for imposing bad policies that blame and attack teachers rather than truly focusing on fully funding the education our students need to be successful -- like smaller class sizes in every grade level,” Rich Wood of the Washington Education Association said.

But Washington Senate Democrats praised Republicans for introducing a plan.

“This is a positive step forward and it gets the Legislature that much closer to fully funding education for our state’s 1 million students,” state Senator Christine Rolfes said in a statement.

Legislative Democrats and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee have previously proposed billions of dollars in new taxes to fund public schools. Inslee’s plan specifically calls for a new state capital gains tax and a tax on carbon. Democrats have been wary of a property levy swap solution whereby local levy rates are lowered while the state rate is increased.

The legislature has a self-imposed deadline of the end of the 2017 session to take the pressure off of local school levies to fund public education.

The Washington Supreme Court has given the state until the 2018 school year to create an amply funded education system. The state is currently in contempt of court over school funding and incurring a $100,000-per-day fine.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."