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School funding a complicated issue | GUEST OPINION
I once heard someone say that problems always seem simplest to solve by those furthest away from the issue. I am guilty of that myself when I watch the nightly news from my couch and inform policy makers how to fix our major world problems by talking to my television. For some reason, they just aren’t listening to my advice.
This also so true when it comes to how we fund our schools in the state of Washington. What seems like it should be a simple process, is one of the most complicated one can ever imagine. There are always ideas floating around in Olympia of how to simplify funding — but the process hasn’t changed yet.
School funding in Washington is different from many states, with specific salary directives set by the Legislature and local districts committing to the additional staff, program, and contract requirements needed to ensure our children have quality schools.
Where do local schools get their money?
Our public schools in Washington rely primarily on money from the state of Washington, federal funds for specific needs, and local levy and bond collections.
State lawmakers set school funding levels during each legislative session. School districts have limited taxing authority, through local levies and bond issues. Local levies are intended to supplement state funds, not replace them. Local levies must be approved by the voters with a simple majority, (50 percent plus one “Yes” vote). There is a limit on how much money a school district can raise through the local levy. Local bond measures, which are used to build buildings, must meet a supermajority requirement of 60 percent “yes” votes to win approval.
State Funding Overview: What is the state’s responsibility?
The foundation for funding Washington’s public schools is established in the state constitution, Article IX Section 1. “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”
Section 2. “The Legislature shall provide a general and uniform system of public schools ... and such ... normal and technical schools as may hereafter be established.”
So what does this mean for us in Marysville?
We are thrilled that for the first time in five years, the state did not cut our funding. In fact, we have begun the slow crawl back to our former funding levels. However, we are currently only funded at the same level as the school year 2008-09. Although we are so thankful for this, the state has a long way to go to meet the mandates of a recent court ruling that found that the state is not funding schools at the appropriate level, and has until 2018 to do so*.
School districts like ours remain heavily dependent upon the local levy to help us meet the needs of each student. In fact, our levy dollars constitute a full 20 percent of our operating budget. Our Board of Directors has decided to put two propositions on the ballot for the upcoming Feb. 11 election. The first is a replacement of our current educational programs maintenance and operations levy that expires in 2014. The replacement levy would run through 2018. The second proposition is to increase funding for technology in our schools. Our last technology levy expired in 2005, and as of this spring over one-third of our computers will be obsolete and cannot be upgraded. For more information, watch your mailboxes, or go to our district website at www.msvl.k12.wa.us. Ballots should arrive around Jan. 24, 2014. Please remember to vote by Feb. 11, 2014.
Until then, here is to a peaceful holiday season.
*For more information on this court ruling, go to http://waschoolexcellence.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/McCleary-FAQs.pdf.
Dr. Becky Berg is the Superintendent of Marysville Schools. You can reach Dr. Berg via email at email@example.com or by calling 360-653-0800.