Wednesday, March 2, 2011

State could cut levy equalization funds for property-poor school districts

Our state is facing a $4.6 billion shortfall for 2011-13, and public education is not immune to significant cuts that will impact students, staff and communities. While Washington’s “paramount duty” is to provide full funding for education, less than 70 percent of a school district’s budget is covered by the state. In the current budget crisis, state support for basic programs and services are at risk.

One proposal being considered by the governor and state legislators is the reduction or elimination of levy equalization funds, which help level the playing field for public schools in Washington. To lessen the disparity between communities and their ability to pay for education through local levies, the state provides levy equalization funds. Districts with low average property values are compensated by the state for the difference. The average range of levy equalization can vary from $1,000 per student to zero. For example, Camas Public Schools receives an extra $170.94 per full-time student, or nearly $967,000 a year. That’s the equivalent of 12-13 teaching positions, impacting average class sizes by approximately 2 additional students in every classroom across the district.

School districts such as Seattle and Bellevue receive no levy equalization funds from the state because they have large tax bases. Reduction or elimination of levy equalization would disproportionally impact poorer communities and make it more difficult for them to provide reasonable class sizes, current textbooks, bus transportation, special education services, arts and music programs, after school activities including sports. Further, if schools lose levy equalization, the gap between the property-rich and property-poor school districts will widen. And, a larger share of the state’s responsibility to pay for its public schools will fall on local communities.

Our legislators have told us they want to hear from their constituents about levy equalization funding. If you would like to contact your local legislators, use the contact information below. If you are unsure which district is yours, you can enter your home address at to look up your district.

15th District:
Senator Jim Honeyford
Representative Bruce Chandler
Representative David Taylor

17th District:
Senator Don Benton
Representative Tim Probst
Representative Paul Harris

18th District:
Senator Joseph Zarelli
Representative Ann Rivers
Representative Ed Orcutt

For more information about levy equalization, you can watch this video, or read this op-ed article on The Columbian’s website.