Braun offers caution after committee endorses levy-lift bill

OLYMPIA…Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia and an architect of the landmark education-funding updates enacted in 2017, raised concerns about the future of those reforms following a vote today in the Senate committee on K-12 education. A majority of the committee members approved Senate Bill 5313, which would allow property-tax hikes by essentially undoing the local “enrichment levy” limit that is key to maintaining the constitutionality of the state’s school-funding system.

“I understand why school districts and the education establishment would want the Legislature to increase local-levy authority, especially after seeing some of the salary increases negotiated this past summer. But going down the road laid out in this bill will get our state in trouble, because some districts are always able to take better advantage of local taxing authority than others, and sooner or later that’ll create the same conditions which led to the McCleary lawsuit. No one should want to go back to the days when the educational opportunities available to students were dictated by whether their school districts were ‘haves’ or ‘have-nots.’ And the Legislature shouldn’t want to be back in the position of having to answer to the Supreme Court.

“In 2017 a number of my Senate colleagues voted against the legislation to update the school-funding system because of how it would change property-tax rates. Yet some of them voted for this bill today, even though it can only lead to higher property taxes. To me, allowing greater reliance on local levies isn’t in line with the Legislature’s constitutional duty to provide for basic education. If school districts still have common funding needs that aren’t being met by the tens of billions of dollars already going into K-12, we should be talking about how to address those at the state level, and leave the local-levy limit in place.”