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Seattle Public Schools says it will be worse off under state’s new education plan

SEATTLE — After struggling for years to pass a comprehensive education budget, state lawmakers finally pushed through a last-minute deal this session.

But on Monday, the largest school district in the state — Seattle Public Schools (SPS) — said lawmakers are still failing to fully fund public education.

In the McCleary v. Washington decision in 2012, the state Supreme Court told lawmakers to find a way to fully fund public education. They found that students were not getting an equal education across the state.

Lawmakers feel they have come a long way but SPS says the Legislature's plan is not a solution.

“They are billions and billions and billions short,” Seattle Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland said.

For weeks, every school district in the state has been studying the fine print of the state's new plan. Every school district is impacted differently -- and some may not agree with SPS.

But so far SPS says they don’t like the calculation for its district

“Our taxpayers are going to pay more in Seattle but they are going to get less,” Nyland said.

Using graphs, the district explained the impact.

In the 2018-19 school year, students in Seattle will get $188 more per student under the new plan. And in the 2019-20 school year, it will be $99 more per student.

But the district says the increase will stop by 2020. They will spend $92 less on every student under the new plan compared to the status quo.

“The dollar growth from the state really flatten, they level-fund you,” Chief Financial Officer JoLynn Berge said.

Berge says it boils down to restrictions on local levies.

The legislation now bans school districts from spending local levies on basic education like salaries. They can still use it for enrichment programs.

“The school system in Seattle was putting in 38% of its levy dollars into basic education --  not only is that unfair or inequitable, it's unconstitutional,” state Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, said.

Lawmakers say they had no choice but to cap local levies in order to comply with the court’s order to provide an equal education to every student in the state.

Relying on local levy dollars lead to inequity across the state.

“If we had skipped it, we would not have been viewed as fully funding public basic education,” Tarleton said.

But the local levy cap now means SPS will be raising nearly $1,000 less on every student each year.

SPS says the state may be giving districts more money but the decrease of local levy dollars means overall the Seattle district is worse off in the next several years.

SPS says as the cost of living rises and their student population grows, the state’s flat funding is not enough.

They estimate a $24.2 million deficit by 2020.

“I do not believe it's anywhere close to complying with McCleary,” Nyland said.

But Tarleton, who represents much of Seattle, says the Legislature's new funding plan stands a good chance in court.

“We believe this is the closest that we've ever come, we do believe it's a historic achievement,” Tarleton said.

“That happened at the dead of the night. When bills pass like that, there are always issues,” Berge said.

Tarleton agrees the education package needs improvement and that is something lawmakers are planning to do in the next legislative session.

Tarleton says many districts are voicing concerns over a lack of funding when it comes to special education.

But the district plans to file an amicus brief with the state Supreme Court saying the plan still does not comply with McCleary.

A court decision could come down by the end of this month. If the court rules against the state, the consequences could vary.

Nyland said one of the options issued by the court could be to close schools.

But Tarleton says in that case the Legislature would most likely come back in a special session to fix the issue.