State Senate Republicans Release Education Funding Plan

Temporarily Tied Senate ~ Democrats confer on the Senate floor as the Republican side sits empty during a recess, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Olympia, Wash. Senators were debating whether to vote on the “levy cliff” bill, which would delay a reduction in the amount of money school districts can collect though property taxes. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) ­~ Senate Republicans on Friday released an education funding plan that seeks to replace local school levies with a statewide uniform rate earmarked for schools.

Lawmakers are working to comply with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that they must fully fund the state’s basic education system. Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies.

The GOP-proposed levy changes are expected to bring in $2 billion a year for education, and the state would also spend an additional $700 million per year to back-fill to ensure that each school district has $12,500 per student. Republicans say they can pay for the back-fill with existing resources. The plan would raise the local school levy in some places, like Seattle, and decrease it in others.

“It’s a leveling of the field, a fair clean way to do what we had to do to fix this problem, which is reform the levy system, but also make sure we recognize that different areas have different ability to fund education,” said Sen. John Braun, a Republican from Centralia who is the key budget writer in the Senate.

The Republican plan also increases the minimum beginning salary for teachers to $45,000 from $35,700, and creates a new housing allowance of up to $10,000 for teachers and staff in high cost of living areas. The plan also prohibits teacher strikes.

The proposal also addresses an issue that Democrats have been calling for: delaying a deadline for a reduction in the amount of money school districts can collect through local property tax levies. A measure had passed the Democratic House on a 62-35 vote Monday and Senate Democrats had been calling for a vote in that chamber. Democrats staged a procedural fight on the Senate floor Friday in an effort to pull that House bill out of committee, but failed. Republicans have scheduled a public hearing on the bill before the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Monday.

The whole plan put forth by Republicans, except for the levy deadline delay portion, would be subject to a referendum by voters in November.

Democrats and Republicans have offered separate plans after a bipartisan task force was unable to reach agreement on a plan after meeting for several months.

The long-awaited plan from Republicans comes at the end of the third week of the 105-day legislative session. Democrats had previously put forth a plan that had estimated that the state will need to spend more than $7 billion over the next four years on schools. While the Democrats’ haven’t offered specifics on how to pay for it, they have noted several potential sources of revenue, including closure of tax exemptions, changes to the state property and business and occupation taxes and a new capital gains tax.

House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said he was glad Republicans have offered a proposal, “so that we can start negotiating a solution.”

“We will begin reviewing their proposal immediately to see where we agree and where more work needs to be done,” Sullivan said a written statement.

Last month Gov. Jay Inslee proposed spending $2.7 billion over the next two years to satisfy the court decision. Inslee would raise money for education by increasing business taxes on attorneys, real estate agents and others, instituting a carbon tax and levying a 7.9 percent capital gains tax on the sales of stocks and bonds above a certain threshold.

Written by Ted S. Warren for and published by The Chronicle ~ January 27, 2017.

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