Competing bills on education funding could impact the Tri-Cities

Educators, parents, students and Supreme Court await Legislatures's basic-education funding solution.

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – Washington legislators are wrestling over education funding. Both the House Democrats and the Senate Republicans have passed competing bills in hopes of meeting the Supreme Court’s order to fund basic education, and their plans to comply with a court order to fully fund basic education by 2018.

Neither side is thrilled with what the other proposed.

Republican’s plan (SB 5607) would rely on a property tax swap, also known as a levy swap. The proposal would implement a new statewide property tax of $1.80 per 1,000 in assessed value, raising $2 billion in revenue. While at the same time, they’d eliminate local school district maintenance and operation levies, reducing property taxes by about $2.4 billion statewide, ensuring $12,500 per student.

“If you're in an extraordinary high property tax district like Pasco, which is $4.32 under their current levy—we take it down to a $1.80 saving the tax payers a lot of money," said Sen. Mark Schoesler, of the 9th Legislative District.

Schoesler explained that Pasco will need to expand their buildings to reduce overcrowding and that a relief in property taxes will help the community's ability to support a bond issue.

“The rate of the property tax base of Pasco, is not that of Richland or Kennewick, and that says that if you're in Richland or Kennewick, the student will get more dollars per thousand, per student than their neighbors,” Schoesler said. “That's why the current system doesn't work. The Richland zip code should be no better than a Pasco or Prosser zip code.”

GOP leaders said the extra money for local school districts can be found in the state budget without proposing new taxes.

Meanwhile, in the Democratic lawmakers’ plan (HB 1843), they haven't put forth a specific proposal for how they'd raise funds, but they’re looking to spend around $7.6 billion over the next four years on funding basic education.

They've suggested the state look at several sources of revenue.

"We’re considering a B&O tax, a carbon tax, a capital gains tax, and closing some loop holes,” said Rep. Pat Sullivan, of the 47th Legislative District. “We're looking at those as well as other ideas."

A major concern from the Democrats is how the Republican's bill redefines how money is spent on low-income students. Republicans are suggesting spending should be based off census data versus the current system that's based on the number of students who receive free and reduced lunches.

“Two-thirds of those kids that right now who qualify for extra support, helping them cross the finish line, wouldn't' get that support anymore," Sullivan said.

Currently, there are 71.2 percent of Pasco students who receive free and reduced lunches, 54.36 percent in Kennewick, and 34 percent of Richland students.

Though there are practical differences in the way Democrats and Republicans believe money should be allocated, both parties see eye-to-eye on numerous issues.

They agree upon increasing minimum teacher salaries, the need to support struggling students, and the importance of closing the opportunity gap.

Schoesler and Sullivan both said that they need to find a solution, and that failure is not an option.

Legislators will either propose a third bill for a compromise, or add an amendment to either of their proposals once they've come to an agreement. Lawmakers have until April 23rd, which is when the legislative session ends.

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