This February, in nearly 60 local bond and levy elections across the state, Washington voters sent a strong message of support to their local schools by approving 55 school levies, raising more than $817 million dollars for schools.
Sixteen of the 27 bonds passed, raising $1.11 billion for districts across the state. Unlike levies, the passing threshold for bonds is 60 percent. If a simple majority were the threshold, nine other bonds would have passed, raising an additional $694 million for school districts. A bill was introduced this session by Rep. Mia Gregorson to change the passing threshold for bonds to 50 percent, but it did not make it out of the House Education committee.
Of the 55 levies that passed, 44 were for maintenance and operations and raised $804 million total for districts across the state. Eleven of the 55 passed levies are capital levies, which raised more than $12 million for schools.
Eight of the levies passed thanks to simple majority, a 2007 voter-approved constitutional amendment supported by the League of Education Voters. Between 2008 and 2015, nearly $5 billion was raised for schools through local levies.
In many districts, local levies make up 25 percent or more of the total operating costs of their schools. These local dollars often pay for necessary school costs like staff salaries, textbooks, or a sixth period in school—a far cry from the “extras” they were originally intended to provide.
In January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. Washington that the state was not meeting its constitutionally mandated duty to fully fund basic education. The court ordered the legislature to overhaul how education is funded in the state by 2018. In 2013, the Legislature added nearly $1 billion to support K–12 basic education funding and gap closing strategies and programs.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled the Legislature in contempt for its lack of progress in funding McCleary. The Legislature must make significant progress toward funding McCleary this legislative session or face possible sanctions or penalties. Keep up with what’s happening during the session by signing up for our CEO Chris Korsmo’s Weekly Roundup emails.