State Superintendent Chris Reykdal is holding two community forums this week – one in Port Angeles and another in Bellingham – to talk with people about school finance and priorities for the state's education system.
A lot has changed in the past couple of years. Lawmakers raised the state property tax to put more money into public schools and to bring an end to the McCleary school-funding lawsuit. They also set a cap on how much school districts can raise through local tax measures.
That’s created a lot of confusion for people, he said.
“We want to get through this entire conversation with a much more public dialogue about what’s really happened with school finance in particular,” Reykdal said.
But there could still be more changes. Last month, Reykdal submitted operating and capital budget requests to Gov. Jay Inslee. Reykdal proposed that the Legislature create a capital gains tax as a way to reduce the property tax burden and generate additional dollars. He said the extra money is needed for special education, nurses, school counselors and other priorities, such as career and technical education.
One thing he hopes lawmakers will consider is making changes to how the state contributes money to school construction projects, especially in less populated areas.
“If you’re a rural community and you have no tax base, even if you pass a bond, it doesn’t generate very much with the limits. Those districts still need capital facilities. They still need upgrades,” he said. “So we’re challenging the Legislature to basically create a new pool of money dedicated to rural districts.”
Reykdal also would like the Legislature to amend the constitution to allow school bond measures to pass with a simple majority. He said it's difficult to amend the constitution, but there's interest among lawmakers. Right now, school districts have to win at least 60 percent of votes to pass a bond measure to build and repair schools.