Education finance is complicated, and easy to demagogue. School districts get money from the feds, the state and local voters. However, they cannot do as they please with all of the revenue. Funding per pupil is a tricky calculation because some students require more resources, and this spending is often mandated.
In Washington, it’s even trickier because the state has been caught up in a long-running debate over what constitutes basic education and how to finance it.
In the meantime, districts are covering the basics, such as special education, transportation and many other items. A recent state Supreme Court ruling clarifies the state’s responsibility to finance basic education, but districts cannot expect increased funding as long as the economy remains in the doldrums.
Districts have become reliant on local levies for the maintenance and operation of their schools. On Feb. 14, voting will wrap up on replacement levies for all but two local districts. If voters say yes, then about one-quarter of the districts’ funding will continue. If they say no, hundreds of teachers will lose their jobs, and students will lose art, music and sports programs. Electives and gifted education programs will also be slashed. School clubs will be closed.
Is this a new property tax, as critics allege? Or the continuation of a current tax, as proponents suggest?
Rhetorical spin aside, there’s little difference to the bottom line of taxpayers. What matters is whether you’re willing to pay roughly the same amount you pay now for the next three years. Some districts are asking for slightly more because they fear the state Legislature will cut levy equalization funds in a tough budget year. However, if the state doesn’t make that cut, the districts say they won’t collect the extra money.
Some levy rates will rise, but mostly because property values have declined. The tax will remain the same or nearly so.
We strongly urge a yes vote, because the quality of our schools is one of the community’s strongest selling points. Greater Spokane Incorporated has increased its involvement on this issue because business leaders know the value employers place on high-quality schools. When businesses are considering where to locate, Spokane goes up against peer cities, such as Boise or Madison, Wis., which also have good schools. We must keep pace.
We also owe it our children to give them high-quality experiences as students so they can thrive as adults. Talented workers want to live in communities that will afford their children the opportunities to excel as well.
The last decade has seen a steady decline in school funding. Districts cannot absorb more hits to their budgets without diminishing the quality of education. A 25 percent decrease would be devastating.
It’s up to local voters to say this is unacceptable. Vote yes on school levies.