OLYMPIA - Off the senate and house floors, you could see the behind the scene frenzy with just hours left before a government shutdown.
At around 5 p.m. the final debate over the budget ended with an approval stopping worries of a government shut down. By 7 p.m. both the Senate and House passed the McCleary plan to fund education the biggest piece of the budget.
The governor will sign the budget before the deadline, midnight Friday, to make sure all government services remain open for citizens.
But the business of passing a $43 billion budget and the biggest education reform in state history was a logistical nightmare earlier in the day.
“The process is terrible it`s a result of a divided government,” Rep. Nicole Macri said.
But the promise in the end is that 1.1 million kids will benefit from the $7.3 billion in new education funding.
“There is definitely new investment,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said.
Reykdal says they include more resources for transitional, bilingual students, low income students, highly capable students and for career and technical education.
Educator salaries also go up but Reykdal is still on the fence about the overall impact.
“We are still trying to figure out the flexibility that districts have,” Reykdal said.
Although state revenues will go up by $7.3 billion over 4 years, Reykdal says levy dollars could go down for many districts. Levy dollars are used to improve various programs and many districts currently use it for basic education due to the state’s failure to pay for things like teacher compensation. In the McCleary decision, the state supreme court ruled in 2012 that the state was not performing its paramount duty of fully funding public education. The court gave the state until September 2018 to turn the failure around.
Key negotiators who settled on the education funding believe the plan will comply with the McCleary decision. The state will take full control of basic education salaries restricting districts from using local levies.
Also the state is capping how much local levies can be raised in an effort to equalize funding across the state.
Reykdal says lawmakers should have left levy dollars alone and most educators agree.
“There are a lot off rules, to make sure these dollars go to this thing, and you can’t use it for that,” Justin Fox- Bailey with Snohomish Education Association said.
Reykdal says the plan will satisfy the state’s supreme court or come close. But other educators like Fox-Bailey are not convinced. He says the exact impact is still unclear to many districts and they don’t know if the rules on paper can be implemented in real life.
“We have next year to come back if there are glaring problems that we missed we will come back and fix those next year,” Rep. Kristine Lytton said.
A big sticking point for many lawmakers is the heavy reliance on property taxes to fund education.
“That`s the piece I am struggling with,” Rep. Nicole Macri said.
Macri who represents Seattle says she supports the billions more for education but worries about the property tax increase for her constituents in Seattle.
“Not only does it hit hard on property tax but in my district where 60% are renters eventually those increases will trickle down to renters,” Macri said.
Just hours before the House was set to vote on the McCleary plan, Macri was unsure on how she would vote.
“Very stressful I feel the weight of the responsibility to represent my constituents,” Macri said.
In the end Macri voted yes to both the education funding and the operating budget.
Now starting in 2018, areas with low property values will see property taxes go down while expensive areas like King County will see substantial increases. Reykdal says those high valued areas will bear the brunt of the education funding.
For example, by 2021 Bellevue’s property taxes could go up by $830, Seattle by $550, Renton by $340,
Snoqualmie Valley by $570 and Mercer Island by $1,280.