In a surprise move March 8 before the 5 p.m. deadline, Senate Republicans brought a bill that would extend current local district levy authority through January 1, 2019. The expanded levy authority and linked levy equalization was put in place in the 2010 session, with the thought that the Legislature would have fully funded K-12 education by their deadline of January 1, 2018.
As the deadline loomed over 2017-18 school year budget planning, districts, parents and teachers urged lawmakers not to let districts “go over the cliff” by not granting their districts access to nearly $400 million in locally approved maintenance & operations levies and the levy equalization that many districts rely on to support education programs.
With a vote of 48-1, the Senate passed an amended bill to the House. The House promptly called in members for a 10 a.m. start on March 9, passed the bill 87-10, and by late morning the levy cliff was stabilized. The next step for the bill is a signature by the Governor’s office.
In addition to extending local levy authority and levy equalization, the bill would:
- Require districts to place Maintenance & Operations (M&O) levy money collected in 2018 and beyond in a sub-fund of the general fund, and to account for expenditures by object/activity;
- Require districts that plan to seek an M&O levy in 2018 or beyond to create a detailed plan of how the levy funds would be used and get approval from Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) prior to going to the voters.
- While the goal with both changes is to limit local levies from being spent on basic education activities, interpretations of the bill as passed by the Legislature say the door is open because the bill would make a permitted use the spending of enrichment levies on activities that don’t get funded by the state.
- While it isn’t clear how large an M&O levy the new education plan will allow, guidance is expected from OSPI, and is likely to say districts can seek an M&O levy at their current rate but will need to be prepared to not access what may be approved, starting in 2019.
- M&O levies are capped the following ways under the various plans: Senate Republican plan is 10%, Governor Inslee is 15%, and House/Senate Democrats scale down over four years to a 24% lid, and the Mullet plan would make the current levy authority permanent.
In addition to the levy cliff activity, the House and Senate wrapped up action on bills that had started in their chamber. The next milestone is Thursday, March 16th with the revenue forecast. In a preview of what’s to come, at a March 2 meeting, the preliminary economic forecast is slightly stronger than in November and the state is expected to continue moderate growth. As has been the case in the past, Washington’s economy continues to outperform the nation. Revenue collections since the November forecast are $110 million above expectations.
Typically the two-year spending plans for operating, capital and transportation begin rolling out after the spring revenue forecast. The Senate goes first this year, and an operating budget is expected around March 20.
Status of Top Five Legislative Priorities – Update & Focus for Members this Week
- Social and Emotional Learning
- Focus for members: Continue to support the staffing as described in HB 1377 and HB 1621; support inclusion of operating budget provisos for Summer ECEAP and continuation of the SEL Benchmarks Work Group.
- Amply Funding Basic Education
- Focus for members: Review 2017 positions and share not just the ample funding but ALL of the positions. They provide a blueprint for many of the activities WSPTA hopes are in the final education funding plan. Talk with legislators about the need to add NEW money into the system and why just replacing local levies with state funding isn’t ample or comprehensive.
- Closing the Opportunity Gap
- Focus for members: Additional funding for students who struggle, whether in a weighted per pupil model or categorical program, is needed if we expect different outcomes for our students who are challenged by an opportunity and achievement gap. To close this gap requires a more systematic approach to students’ academic and non-academic needs – the “whole child.”
- Standards for Para-educators
- Focus for members: Continue to support SB 5070, which passed the Senate last week with a 37-10 vote, over ESHB 1115, which would remove much of the essential elements that WSPTA members supported at the Legislative Assembly.
- Breakfast after the Bell
- Focus for members: ESHB 1508 passed the House and is in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. Please let your Senators know that WSPTA fully supports this legislation and wants it to pass this session.
2017 WSPTA Supported Issues:
- Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Children
- SSB 5241 will be heard in the House Education Committee Monday, March 13th at 1:30 p.m. The idea for the bill started with WSPTA member Carrie McKenzie, RLC 6, who talked with a foster parent about the barriers to success. This just shows what a simple idea can lead to!
- Engaging Families in Student Success
- Focus for members: SHB 1618 is up for a public hearing in the Senate EL & K-12 Committee March 16 at 1:30 p.m. It is important for your members on the committee and in the Senate to hear why it is important to define Family & Community Engagement Coordinators, and ensure that funding allocated for them could only be used for this staffing.
- Post-Secondary/Higher Education Access and Affordability
- Focus for members: Unfortunately only one of several bills remains under consideration – HB 1512 would expand eligibility under the College Bound Scholarship passed the House by the cutoff and has been sent to Senate Higher Education.
- Removing Barriers to Implementing ECEAP
- Focus for members: Expansion of ECEAP, and the Summer ECEAP program will be handled in the operating budget. But it isn’t too early to let your House and Senate members know about the importance of early learning education and the need to increase slots to provide access to more preschoolers.
- Restorative Justice and School Safety
- SSB 5155, which would limit the number of days students in grades K-2 could be suspended or expelled, didn’t make the Senate cutoff.
Week in Review
Action this week was on the floor, so WSPTA advocated with legislators on the 2017 platform and priorities.
The Week Ahead – Schedule Subject to Change
Monday, March 13
1:30 p.m., Education (House) – HHR A
- SSB 5241 – Public Hearing – Concerning the educational success of youth who are homeless or in foster care.
Tuesday, March 14
8 a.m., Higher Education (Senate) – SHR 3
- ESHB 1333 – Public Hearing – Requiring establishment of a systemwide policy for granting credit for AP exams.
3:30 p.m., Capital Budget (House) – HHR B
- ESSB 5702 – Public Hearing – Improving state funding for school construction, modernization, and asset preservation.
Wednesday, March 15
1:30 p.m., Early Learning & Human Services (House) – HHR C
- 2SSB 5107 – Public Hearing – Facilitating local funding and involvement in expanding early childhood education and assistance program eligibility.
Thursday, March 16
1:30 p.m., Early Learning & K-12 Education (Senate) – SHR 1
- SHB 1618 – Public Hearing – Concerning family and community engagement coordinators.
WSPTA Legislative Consultant