State lawmakers have yet to agree on how to fund public education

SEATTLE — With less than two months left before the Legislature is set to adjourn, state lawmakers are still far apart on an agreement to fund public education.

Lawmakers agree with the state Supreme Court that it’s the lawmakers’ responsibility to equally fund schools rather than forcing school districts to rely on local levies for their money.

The big sticking point, though, is how to generate the billions of dollars needed to fix the system.

The saying ‘less is more’ is not applicable when it comes to student learning.

“Our school has lost an assistant principal position, half a counselor, a certificated teacher, Highland Park Elementary principal Chris Cronas said.

The principal says schools are struggling to find ways to pay for the basics.

“It shouldn’t be up to any district to generate local levy dollars to pay for things like teacher salaries,” Cronas said.

Lawmakers agree with that sentiment.

Republicans want to generate $6.9 billion over the next four years.

“We are not in favor of carbon tax, a capital gains tax,” said state Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, referring to Gov. Jay Inslee's education financing proposal.

Last month, Senate Republicans narrowly passed a package that looks to set a flat rate for property taxes.

“We live within our means and do what we can and reform our existing property tax structure,” Zeiger said.

The plan includes a $1.80 for every $1,000 in assessed value, which means a homeowner with a $400,000  home would pay about $720.

Homeowners across the state pay wildly different property taxes, depending on where they live. The statewide average is $2.54 for every $1,000 assessed valuation. Republicans say that under their plan, 80 percent of homeowners will get a tax cut compared to what they would have paid in 2016.

Democrats say restructuring the property tax system in this way would burden cities like Seattle. They say the property tax idea alone will not be enough to fully fund public education.

“I think it will have to be a sweep of options to move forward. I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all that we are going to raise property taxes,” said Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.

Lytton said the Republicans are only moving dollars around and not generating new revenue.

The Seattle Education Association agrees with the Democrats. The teacher’s union says the Republican plan does not address class sizes and adequate teacher pay.

“They get rid of class sizes, which I is very important to us, ... (and favor) merit pay, which doesn’t actually work,” SEA President Phyllis Campano said.

Campano called the Republican plan "anti-teacher" and "anti-union."

“We are not here to support the teachers union, we want our system more performance-driven,” Zeiger said.

With the 2017 legislative session projected to end on April 23, Inslee  toured Highland Park Elementary on Monday. The governor says despite competing ideas, he believes all lawmakers are committed to finding a solution soon.

“They have to level a dose of courage to get the job done,” Inslee said.

The Democrats are expected to lay out their exact plans on how they plan to generate $7.8 billion over the next four years.

It’s a matter of whether the two sides can reach a compromise in time.