School Levies

For the past two years we’ve had a group of technical experts working on proposals on how to fix school levies. They just released their report, available here. The report is amazingly detailed and is a great introduction into how levies work and some possible approaches to fixing the problems.

I read the immediately previous draft of the report (about 150 pages) and haven’t walked through the differences yet, but the draft did a good job of laying out alternatives, but not such a good job of picking a solution. The basic problems:

  1. We depend MUCH too heavily on local property taxes to fund education. We are very close to the levels of dependence we had in the late 70s that created legal cases against the state for violating Article IXof the WA State Constitution.
  2. The amount of funding available from local sources varies wildly between districts for two main reasons. First, some districts have more property wealth per student than others, and second, some districts have more legal ability to raise levies than other districts for strange historical reasons. This violates the “general and uniform” part of Article IX.
  3. The formula for figuring out levies is complex beyond belief and hard to explain to legislators and voters.

Last year the state lost a big school funding case in court. (This is the “McCleary” case.) The appeal was heard in the last few months and we expect a decision in the early fall. It’s hard to believe that the court will find for the state.

We have work to do to come up with a system that makes more sense, and I’m open to suggestion, particularly places where we might change how the levy system works to make more sense. If you want to comment you should also read David Iseminger’s excellent thought exercise on his website. I don’t agree with all of it, but some of the ideas make a lot of sense.

About the Author

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.