NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

Washington State Legislature passes clean levy flexibility bill to help school districts

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.

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