Braun bill takes away excuses for school-levy ‘lift’

OLYMPIA…Sen. John Braun today proposed a way for lawmakers to answer school-funding concerns while protecting taxpayers against big increases in local school levies.

Senate Bill 6021, introduced with less than six full days left in this year’s 105-day session, is being offered as an alternative to two measures still in play: House Bill 2140 and Senate Bill 5313. Either would lift the bipartisan cap on local school levies and enable property-tax increases.

“There are members of the majority who realize it would be a big mistake to lift the limit on local school levies and endorse higher property taxes, but they also don’t want to go home without responding to funding concerns raised by school districts they represent. For them this new bill is a way forward that doesn’t raise taxes and would help avoid an overtime session,” said Braun, an architect of the landmark education-funding updates enacted in 2017.

He said SB 6021 would send more money to school districts on each end of the student-enrollment scale, taking away arguments in favor of what some districts and the state’s largest education union are calling “local levy flexibility.” It also would address special-education funding not found in another Senate measure pending approval by the House of Representatives.

“We knew some policy and funding adjustments would need to be made as the school-funding updates took hold – but the local levy limit didn’t take effect until just this year, so let’s leave it alone and come at these adjustments from another direction,” said Braun, R-Centralia. “This bill checks some important boxes for big urban districts, and districts with enrollments less than 1,000 students, and it also complements the special-education funding that I hope is already on its way into the final budget.”

For instance, Braun’s bill would increase the annual allocation to Seattle Public Schools by $28.3 million, including an additional $1.6 million for special education. The Tacoma School District would see another $15.5 million per year, with an additional $1.3 million designated for special education.

Braun acknowledged that his bill may also save lawmakers from going into overtime due to the lack of agreement on a new state budget.

“If it’s true that some senators see their support for a new budget going hand-in-hand with a solution to the concerns about school funding, then this approach deserves serious consideration. I know it’s late in the session to put new legislation on the table, but this is a path that would be easy to follow if enough people recognize the advantages,” said Braun.

Braun said the cost of the new funding could be covered through improvements to the state-run health-care system for K-12 employees that would maintain access to care at a lower cost to the state and to school districts. He estimates those refinements, handled in separate legislation, could mean multimillion-dollar savings for Seattle Public Schools.

The risks of undoing the local-levy limit are detailed in a July 2018 edition of Braun’s Economic Sense policy paper.