Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Demystifying Simple Majority for Schools

One of the most important items on the Legislature's agenda this year is a proposed change in the requirements for the passage of school levies and bonds. Currently, in order for either type of proposition to become law, what is known as the 60/40 rule must be satisfied in a special, primary, or general election:
  • Voter turnout (or validation) must be at or above 40%
  • Approval of the levy or bond must be at least 60% (a supermajority).
Conversely, a simple majority would be approval by 51% of the voters, regardless of voter turnout. Simple majority voting would bring schools into parity with the current requirements for voter approval of jails, libraries, museums and stadiums.

A school levy designates usage of property tax revenues for public schools. Levies can be used for improving class size, creating academic programs, providing books/supplies, etc. There are two types of school levies:
  1. State school levies: Approved and paid for by all Washington property owners, the revenue from these levies is distributed to school districts throughout the state.
  2. Special levies: Approved and paid for by voters in a specific school district, revenues from these levies are used only for the school district that approved them. A local school district’s only option for raising local tax dollars is asking voters for approval of a school levy.
A school bond is long-term debt issued by the school district. The bond is sold to raise funds to pay for school construction and improvements. School bond funds can only be spent on capital improvements. They are repaid over a period of years from local tax revenues.

Schools get money through a convoluted, arcane process involving state budgets, bonds, levies, old rules that were grandfathered in long ago for some regions, and, for all I know, your grandfather.

On top of that, declining state revenue has forced school districts to be more reliant on local school bond and levy dollars.

This increased dependence widens the disparity between wealthier districts that pass their school measures and poorer ones that frequently fail school measures. Yet all students are being held to the same academic standards whether their school districts have local bond/levy dollars or not. There is an amazing array of Simple Majority bills on the floor this year:
  • HJR 4201 / HJR 4204 / SJR 8202 / SJR 8207 – Amending the state Constitution to provide for simple majority authorization of school levies. HJR 4201 had a hearing in the House Committee on Education on January 19th. It is now awaiting committee action. SJR 8207 has received a public hearing in the Senate Education Committee. It now passes to that chamber's Rules Committee for a second reading.
  • SJR 8203 - Amending the state Constitution to provide for simple majority authorization to approve school bonds. SJR 8203 has been heard in the Senate Education Committee, and it received a "do pass" recommendation.
  • SB 5028 - Providing for a simple majority authorization of school district bonds. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Early Learning & K-12 Education, had a public hearing on January 15th, and is currently awaiting committee action so it can move forward.
The bills for constitutional amendments require:
  • A 2/3rds vote of both houses of the Legislature, and (assuming this occurs)
  • Approval by a simple majority of the voters in November.
While bills have passed the House of Representatives numerous times in the past, we have never been able to meet the supermajority requirement in the Senate. With your support, let's make this the year we get this legislation through so the people of the Evergreen State may decide.

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