Senate passes bill to solve McCleary by guaranteeing $12,500 per student; taxpayers in 245 school districts would get property tax cut

By LIV FINNE  | 
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Feb 3, 2017

Late Wednesday night the Senate Majority Coalition passed one of the most significant education reforms Washington state has seen in its history, SB 5607, the Education Equality Act. Chief sponsor is the Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Senator John Braun (R-Centralia). Two days earlier, late Monday afternoon, I had the honor of joining many parents and other community members testifying in strong support of the lawmaker’s proposal.    

McCleary is the 2012 state supreme court ruling requiring the legislature to make ample provision for the schools by means of dependable and regular revenue sources, and to reduce its reliance on local levy funding. The Education Equality Act fully solves the McCleary demand. The Act commits the state, for the first time ever, to provide a fixed dollar amount, a minimum of $12,500, to educate each student within its borders. If this Act is passed by the legislature and approved by voters this fall, students and parents would no longer have to fear cuts to school funding from downturns in the state economy. 

The Education Equality Act offers a binding and unwavering guarantee from the state to provide every child, regardless of their zip code, a fixed and certain sum for their education every year. Here are the new state guarantees:

$10,000 for each student;

$7,500 more for each special education student, with a safety net for severely disabled students;

$1,000 more for students whose first language is not English;

$2,000 to $5,000 more for each student in poverty;

$1,500 more for homeless students.

The Act would guarantee that if total state, local and federal revenue does not add up to $12,500 per student, the state will make up the difference. The Act’s guarantee would maintain and protect the dramatic and historic increases the legislature has provided the schools since the 2012 McCleary ruling. The legislature has increased per student funding from $9,915 in 2011 to $12,652 in 2016, with total school spending increasing by 34 percent

Specifically, the Education Equality Act would replace local levies with a new state local effort levy with a rate of $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value. This would correct the current inequity in property tax rates, which places a much heavier burden on taxpayers living in property-poor districts than on taxpayers living in property-rich districts. Of the state’s 295 school districts, 245 would see a property tax cut. To find out what this means by district, see this document.

The Education Equality Act would significantly improve the way schools can spend this money, by allowing districts to pay teachers as professionals, based on their value and contribution to student learning. The Act would increase the salaries of beginning teachers to $45,000, and a housing stipend of $10,000 if teachers live in areas where housing is expensive.

The Education Equality Act would also allow children attending public charter schools to share in the new state local effort levy, correcting the social injustice in current law which unfairly denies local levy funds to mostly low-income and minority children.

Finally, the Education Equality Act would set targets for improved academic outcomes, and would allow school districts to remove teachers who are detrimental to student academic performance. This provision alone would go a long way towards eliminating the academic Opportunity Gap between lower-income, minority students and other students.    

The Education Equality Act reflects the very best values of Washington state--- guaranteeing to provide $12,500 for the education of every child residing within its borders, fulfilling the legislature’s paramount duty under article IX of the Constitution of the State of Washington.