The work that we do to improve public education is only possible thanks to the support of our activists and advocates—the parents, community members, students, and teachers who stand up and speak up. In order to recognize the difficult work that so many of our supporters do on behalf of all Washington students, the League of Education Voters began spotlighting the work of our “activists of the month” in late 2013.
Our activists of the month were selected for going above and beyond in their work for Washington students—in organizing, in testimony, in advocacy, and more. Before we break for the summer, we wanted to draw your attention to these activists once more. Read More
In what has become unfortunately common in Washington, the 2013 legislative session went into overtime. An agreement on a two-year budget was reached with less than 24 hours to spare to avoid a shutdown of state government. While significant hurdles remain as we strive to ensure our public education system is amply, equitably and sustainably funded, measurable progress was made during the extended 2013 session.
The legislature and the Governor were faced with competing requirements and political trends. Our state’s constitution required increased investment in K-12 education. And while I-1053 was ultimately ruled unconstitutional, the voters of Washington state have consistently sent a strong message that any tax increases must have 2/3 majority support in the legislature. The legislators were charged with increasing investment in K12, without broad based revenue increases, and avoiding cuts to other areas of education or essential social services.
On that score you have to say the session was a mild success. As a state, we expanded investment in early learning, brought a modicum of stability to the Working Connections Child Care program, increased investment in K-12 with an intense focus on the opportunity gap, and stopped the crippling cuts to higher education. We did all of this without cannibalizing essential social services. While it took longer than was needed, the outcome reflected the values of the voters who sent the legislators to Olympia to represent them.
In addition to the budget items, significant bipartisan efforts on education policy were passed (See LEV 2013 legislative accomplishments). Legislation related to addressing customer service issues in child care, supports for persistently failing schools, literacy, STEM education, gathering and reporting of discipline data, and assessment reforms all passed with significant bipartisan support.
As we move forward, LEV will continue to work with parents, members of both parties, and members of the education community to address the continuing challenge of providing ample, equitable and stable funding and ensuring those dollars are invested effectively to ensure that every student in Washington state receives an excellent public education that provides the opportunity for success.
You did not see that headline last week, but you should have.
You may have read reports about levies in a particular district or county, but there was precious little attention paid to what happened all across the state. What happened was that voters overwhelmingly supported their local schools and voted for $2.6 billion in taxes to support education.
Let’s say it again: Voters overwhelmingly supported their local schools and voted for $2.6 billion in taxes to support education.
Out of 295 school districts, 157 went to their local communities seeking support to the tune of over $2.7 billion dollars in property taxes. Out of the 157 school districts that put levies on the ballot, 152 of them passed. In a time where we hear that voters will not support revenue, the local election results stand in stark contrast to that narrative.
In most cases, local dollars make up around 25% of the total operating costs of a school district. We are a far cry from local levies being about the “extras” they were originally designed to provide. As the economic crises drags on, the importance of local levies has increased. Local communities have responded to that crisis with overwhelming support for their schools.
Simple Majority, the gift that keeps on giving
It seems odd, but Washington state has a fondness for requiring super majorities when it comes to revenue. It used to be that local schools had to receive more than 60% of the vote to secure a local operating levy. Thanks to Simple Majority (also known as I-4204, passed in 2007) we returned to the most basic of democratic principles, majority rules. That means that 51 levies representing $1.2 billion have passed because of Simple Majority. That is $1.2 billion to support the students in those districts that they otherwise would not have received.
Our support for majority rule extends to the state Legislature, where the law currently requires two-thirds majority to raise revenue. The I-1053 lawsuit, which we filed along with the Washington Education Association and other plaintiffs in October, will have its first hearing in March. We hope that the combination of the McCleary ruling and the eventual ruling on I-1053 will clear the way to fund our schools at the level they need, and local voters seem prepared to support.