Keep local levies out of school-funding deal

As the Legislature gets closer to a budget deal ending the McCleary school-funding saga, it must ensure local levies aren’t used to fund basic education.

CONFOUNDINGLY, the Washington Legislature is entering yet another special session to finish a task — paying the full cost of the basic education in schools — it should have completed years ago.

That said, legislative negotiators report they have made progress in recent weeks and a budget deal appears to be taking shape.

In the final deal, the state must amply fund K-12 schools with state funding as it promised in the McCleary lawsuit. It cannot use local levies for basic education. That would not stand with the Supreme Court, which is holding the state in contempt partly on that very issue.

To avoid a government shutdown, they must reach agreement next week. A core group has worked hard to find common ground, increase school funding and resolve the unconstitutional inequities in the K-12 system.

Consensus appears to be growing for a funding plan that relies mostly on property taxes, merging local property tax levies into the state education property tax. Some areas of the state may see tax increases, but not as high as earlier proposals by the state Senate.

A menu of other new taxes, including a capital-gains tax, is largely discarded. The survivor would be taxing consumers on goods purchased online from out-of-state vendors. This isn’t a huge revenue source and it may face legal challenges, but it helps diversify state revenue.

The third component of the deal is more problematic — the continued use of local property-tax levies. Local levies cannot be used to fund basic K-12 education in Washington.

That is at the heart of the Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling that found the state is failing to amply fund education, its paramount duty under the state constitution.

Because the state repeatedly failed to pay its school bill, districts had to raise monies…

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