Gov. Inslee signs education funding plan that will raise statewide property tax

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A measure that would raise the statewide property tax to try to bring the state into compliance with a state Supreme Court mandate to increase state dollars to basic education was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Inslee signed House Bill 2242 surrounded by legislative leaders from both parties, budget negotiators and school-aged children.

“We believe we have met the constitutional obligation to our children,” Inslee said. “We’ve set the course for education for the state of Washington for years to come.”

The state has been in contempt of court for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that found that school funding was not adequate. Lawmakers had previously put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies.

The court has said that the state has until Sept. 1, 2018, to do that, but that a funded plan needed to be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.

Tom Ahearne, the attorney for the plaintiffs in education funding case against the state, said Thursday that the plan “doesn’t come close to complying” with what the court ruled.

“The court has to decide whether it actually meant what it said and whether the constitutional rights of kids in our state are going to be upheld,” he said.

The Legislature must now prepare a report to the high court detailing the progress they have made on satisfying the initial ruling. That report, along with an accompanying legal brief from the attorney general’s office, is due by the end of the month.

Lawmakers — who started their regular 105-day legislative session in January — have had to go into three overtime sessions, and just reached agreement on the issue last week.

Under the plan, the state will spend $1.8 billion on K-12 public schools over the next two years. In total, the state investment in schools will be $7.3 billion over the next four years.

The measure relies largely on an increase to the statewide property tax that starts next year. The tax increases from $1.89 to $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, with the increase earmarked for education. The plan — which keeps in place local property tax levies but caps them beginning in 2019 at a lower level— will ultimately raise property taxes for some districts and lower them in others.

“Folks around the state will always find something in a budget that they don’t like,” State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said before the bill signing. He noted that in spite of the political divide in the Legislature — with Democrats narrowly controlling the House and Republicans narrowly controlling the Senate — there was “extraordinary bipartisan work to get to a really positive outcome for kids.”

“We have overcome the partisanship that has gripped the rest of the country and we focused on students,” he said.

The minimum starting salary for teachers will be $40,000, with adjustment for inflation and regional differences. Under the plan, the average minimum salary for instructional staff will be $64,000, and adding in regionalization, it will range from $66,194 to $82,081. School districts can pay a salary over the maximum of $90,000 by up to 10 percent for educational staff associates or teachers who teach science, technology, engineering, math or in bilingual or special education programs. There’s also a mandatory 10 percent increase after 5 years of employment.

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