Washington legislators, remember your paramount duty
Washington legislators, remember your paramount duty (NPI illustration)

With almost no time left to go before mid­night on the final day of the 2019 reg­u­lar ses­sion, the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture has adopt­ed leg­is­la­tion undo­ing some of the harm caused to school dis­tricts around the state by the 2017 McCleary school fund­ing deal struck between the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans and the House Democrats.

Engrossed Sub­sti­tute Sen­ate Bill 5313, orig­i­nal­ly spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Lisa Well­man (D‑41st Dis­trict: Mer­cer Island, Belle­vue, New­cas­tle, Sam­mamish), adjusts the enrich­ment levy lim­it in state law to restore some of the author­i­ty that was tak­en away in the McCleary deal. This revised flex­i­ble levy pol­i­cy will allow school dis­tricts like Seat­tle, the state’s largest dis­trict, to avert mil­lions of dol­lars in detri­men­tal cuts to librar­i­ans, coun­selors, and assis­tant principals.

“Local com­mu­ni­ties should be able to decide what’s impor­tant to them when it comes to enrich­ment pro­grams that fall out­side the realm of basic edu­ca­tion,” Sen­a­tor Well­man said in a state­ment. “And that’s what this bill allows. We brought the levy cap down too hard in 2017, and it’s time to make adjustments.”

Dis­tricts are only per­mit­ted to use enrich­ment dol­lars to sup­ple­ment what the state defines as basic edu­ca­tion. The state audi­tor’s office is autho­rized by the bill to review local dis­trict expen­di­tures to ensure compliance.

“This agree­ment allows local com­mu­ni­ties to fund pro­grams they val­ue with­out trig­ger­ing anoth­er pre-McCleary sit­u­a­tion,” Well­man explained.

“Local levies shouldn’t pay for basic K‑12 edu­ca­tion, and we’ve tak­en that into account. This bill has teeth, ensur­ing that enrich­ment levies pay only for non-basic activ­i­ties that local tax­pay­ers choose.”

ESSB 5313’s path to pas­sage was a rocky one. Although Democ­rats con­trol each cham­ber of the Leg­is­la­ture by com­fort­able mar­gins, the par­ty’s eighty-five leg­is­la­tors are not all in agree­ment with respect to how schools should be funded.

When Well­man’s bill came before the Sen­ate Ways & Means Com­mit­tee, two of its Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­bers saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to hijack it to make it serve their own pro-char­ter schools agen­da: Mark Mul­let and Guy Palum­bo.

Mul­let and Palum­bo saw to it that the bill was amend­ed to direct addi­tion­al fund­ing to char­ter schools, prompt­ing con­dem­na­tion from the Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, the Wash­ing­ton Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion, Wash­ing­ton’s Para­mount Duty, NPI, and school fund­ing advo­cates — and draw­ing a sharp, unhap­py response from prime spon­sor Lisa Wellman.

When 5313 got to the Sen­ate floor on April 26th, the bill was rewrit­ten via floor amend­ment and sent over to the House with­out the sup­port of Mul­let, Palum­bo, or Steve Hobbs, all of whom are avowed char­ter schools supporters.

On the final day of ses­sion, as mid­night approached, the House took up 5313, replac­ing the bill in its entire­ty with its own strik­ing amend­ment lack­ing the pro-char­ter lan­guage that Mul­let and Palum­bo had want­ed. Major­i­ty Leader Pat Sul­li­van explained in a floor speech that most House Democ­rats sim­ply would not sup­port a pro­vi­sion bol­ster­ing fund­ing for char­ter schools.

The bill left the House with fifty-three aye votes. The roll call was as follows:

Roll Call
SB 5313
School levies
Final Pas­sage as Amend­ed by the House

Yeas: 53; Nays: 45

Vot­ing Yea: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Apple­ton, Bergquist, Blake, Chan­dler, Chap­man, Cody, Davis, Doglio, Dolan, Enten­man, Fey, Fitzgib­bon, Frame, Good­man, Gregerson, Hansen, Hud­gins, Jink­ins, Kil­duff, Kir­by, Klo­ba, Lekanoff, Lovick, Macri, Mor­gan, Mor­ris, Orms­by, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Pel­lic­ciot­ti, Peter­son, Pet­ti­grew, Pol­let, Ramos, Reeves, Ric­cel­li, Robin­son, Ryu, San­tos, Sells, Senn, Shew­make, Slat­ter, Stan­ford, Stonier, Sul­li­van, Tar­leton, Tharinger, Valdez, Walen, Wylie, Chopp

Vot­ing Nay: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Barkis, Boehnke, Caldier, Callan, Cham­bers, Cor­ry, DeBolt, Dent, Dufault, Dye, Eslick, Gildon, Goehn­er, Gra­ham, Grif­fey, Har­ris, Hoff, Irwin, Jenkin, Klip­pert, Kraft, Kretz, Leav­itt, MacEwen, May­cum­ber, McCaslin, Mead, Mos­bruck­er, Orcutt, Rude, Schmick, Shea, Smith, Springer, Steele, Stokes­bary, Suther­land, Thai, Van Wer­ven, Vick, Volz, Walsh, Wilcox, Ybar­ra, Young

Five Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tives vot­ed against the bill on final pas­sage: Lisa Callan, Mari Leav­itt, Jared Mead, Lar­ry Springer, and My-Linh Thai. One Repub­li­can vot­ed for it — Bruce Chan­dler of the 15th Leg­isla­tive District.

Min­utes after clear­ing the House, 5313 land­ed back in the Sen­ate for con­cur­rence. A bare major­i­ty of twen­ty-five Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors sent the bill on to Gov­er­nor Inslee for sig­na­ture, with Mul­let, Palum­bo, and Hobbs again join­ing the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans in vot­ing no. Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Ann Rivers did not vote.

Roll Call
SB 5313
School levies
Final Pas­sage as Amend­ed by the House

Yeas: 25; Nays: 23; Excused: 1

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Bil­lig, Car­lyle, Cleve­land, Con­way, Darneille, Das, Dhin­gra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hunt, Keis­er, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, McCoy, Nguyen, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Salomon, Takko, Van De Wege, Well­man, Wil­son (Claire)

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Bai­ley, Beck­er, Braun, Brown, Erick­sen, For­tu­na­to, Hawkins, Hobbs, Holy, Hon­ey­ford, King, Mul­let, O‘Ban, Pad­den, Palum­bo, Schoesler, Shel­don, Short, Wag­oner, Walsh, War­nick, Wil­son (Lyn­da) Zeiger

Excused: Sen­a­tor Rivers

Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee has indi­cat­ed that he will sign the bill promptly.

Once signed, ESSB 5313 will go into effect nine­ty days from today.

NPI thanks the sev­en­ty-sev­en Demo­c­ra­t­ic leg­is­la­tors who vot­ed for this bill, along with Repub­li­can Bruce Chan­dler (who showed great courage in break­ing with his par­ty to vote for a good piece of leg­is­la­tion). Thanks to this time­ly action, many pend­ing tru­ly unnec­es­sary and hor­rif­ic school bud­get cuts can like­ly be avoided.

More work remains to be done to ensure that our pub­lic schools are ful­ly fund­ed. But at least we’re mak­ing progress and fix­ing some of the bad poli­cies that the Sen­ate Repub­li­cans insist­ed on as part of the McCleary deal two years ago.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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