Washington Business Summer 2015 - Page 43

business backgrounder | education & workforce Back to School: Levy Reform 101 A simple shift of local levy expenditures to the state will be anything but easy. Bobbi Cussins A change to the way K-12 basic education is funded at the state level is at the crux of the complex and sometimes divisive local school levy reform debate in the Legislature. This article takes a look at what levy reform could mean for school districts and property taxpayers, the role of the state Supreme Court, and the complex resolution that awaits the 2016 Legislature. “The issue of levy reform is more than complicated; it’s terrifying.” — Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chair of the House Appropriations Committee and chief House budget architect at a glance Article VII of the state constitution and chapter 84.52 RCW give school districts the authority to levy excess local property taxes through voter approval. Voter-approved property tax increases can fund extra school programs above and beyond the program of K-12 basic education, which is defined in House Bill 2776 (passed in 2010). Under the current model, nearly $3 billion every two years in local levy dollars are being spent on K-12 basic education, such as teacher compensation. The state Supreme Court in its 2012 The fight to add nearly $3 billion more to state K-12 basic education funding over the last two budget cycles took the Legislature to the brink of a government shutdown ­— twice. Now the really hard work begins as lawmakers start to tinker with local property tax levies in their attempt to comply with the state Supreme Court mandate requiring the state to pick up the full tab for the program of basic elementary education. Specifically, lawmakers must pass a bill that moves basic education expenditures — roughly $3 billion currently being paid for with local property tax levies — into the state’s two-year budget. Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chair of the House Appropriations Committee and key budget architect, spoke candidly about the monumental change: “The issue of levy reform is more than complicated; it’s terrifying.” McCleary education funding ruling directed the Legislature to realign the state budget to appropriate enough funding to ensure K-12 basic education is fully funded by the state, ensuring local levy dollars are used solely for educational enhancements. Levy reform proposals in the Legislature would shift the responsibility of fully funding K-12 basic education back to the state, freeing up local levy dollars to be used for educational program enhancements outside K-12 basic education. summer 2015 43