The state of Washington, as far as the state Supreme Court is concerned, has met its obligation to fully fund basic education. Yet, funding for what’s considered basic education — while considerable — still falls short of well-rounded education.
And that’s why school districts throughout the state ask local voters to approve local dollars to fund things such as music, physical education, athletic teams, drama, fine arts, Future Farmers of America program, intervention specialists, special education, psychology services, technology and much more.
Approval of the four-year, nearly $46 million Walla Walla School District’s local levy on the Feb. 11 ballot is critically important.
This levy is about the same dollar amount sought four years ago. It is a replacement levy. Property taxes in 2021, which is when this levy would begin, will remain the same as 2020 — $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
That means the owners of a $200,000 home would pay $500 a year.
The state Legislature capped the rate at $2.50 last year after boosting statewide spending on education by $12 billion over the past six years. This was done to meet the mandates of a lawsuit that claimed, and the court agreed, the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation.
Lawmakers in 2018 capped the rate at $1.50, but upped the amount by a buck after it became clear that amount would not cover the programs the public expects.
Locally, officials have been extremely wise in spending the added state dollars, unlike many districts that gave teachers and staff raises that were not sustainable. Those that were not prudent had to lay off employees.
Walla Walla’s financial stewardship is appreciated.
But even with wise spending of state money, the local supplement is essential.
For example, about a third of the approximately $11 million a year from the levy goes to fund salaries and benefits for 40 teachers — music, art, drama, PE and honors. Other levy funds allow for 60 people to be hired for a variety of important jobs, from school security to special education services.
Keep in mind that levies have nothing to do with bonds, which are approved only for capital projects such as the current construction going on at Walla Walla High School.
Levies essentially supplement education beyond what the state has determined is “basic.” Having safety officers at schools and music, drama and arts programs are aspects of school the public rightly expects.
These expectations can only be met if the levy is approved every four years.
We urge voters living in the Walla Walla School District to approve the Replacement of Expiring Educational Programs and Operations Levy on the Feb. 11 ballot.