Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Washington voters support their local public schools

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OLYMPIA - Local levies and bonds are one important way that communities support their schools, and preliminary results from yesterday’s Special Election show how committed voters are to their local public schools.

Local levies and bonds allow communities to support the unique needs of the students, educators, and families in their neighborhood schools. Levies build on the basics that are funded by the state, and many communities leverage these dollars to fund mental health supports, early learning, additional support staffing, and other programming.

In the election, 159 school districts had a total of 192 enrichment levies and/or capital levies on the ballot, and 21 school districts had bonds on the ballot. Currently, 172 (90%) of the local levies are passing, and 12 additional levies are within 2% of passing. Based on historical voting patterns, we anticipate that 96% of the levies will ultimately pass.

Bonds, however, are a different story. In many communities, passing local bonds is a continuous challenge. To unlock access to school construction funding from the state, Washington requires local school districts to provide a local matching share of funds. That matching share is provided through a local bond, which needs at least 60% voter approval to pass.

In the last 10 years, 45% of the bonds in our state passed. If the bond approval threshold were a 50% simple majority like it is for school levies, then 72% of the failed bonds would have passed, and nearly 85% of total bonds would have passed.

Preliminary results from yesterday’s election show that 18 of the 21 bond measures (86%) earned a simple majority in their local communities – a true commitment to students. However, because they need a 60% supermajority to pass, just 7 of the 21 (33%) local bonds are passing.

Student learning is impacted when a school has a leaking roof, when students are squeezed into spaces because the building isn’t big enough, and when classrooms are too outdated to meet the needs of 21st century learning. It’s time that we treat school construction funding like the basic education necessity that it is.

Washington’s voters continue to support a well-rounded, high-quality public education for the young people in their community. However, our state’s undemocratic supermajority requirement for bond approval prevents many communities from fully leveraging the support they need.

Currently, 11 bonds on yesterday’s ballot received between 50% and 60% voter approval. If we required a simple majority for school construction bonds––and those 11 bonds from yesterday passed––it would generate $227.1 million in state matching funds to support those local communities in building or renovating safe, healthy, and modern learning spaces.

Combined with the $1.1 billion in local investments, a simple majority for school construction bonds would have generated a total of $1.3 billion in local construction jobs and high-quality school buildings in those 11 communities.

This legislative session, I partnered with Senator Sam Hunt to introduce Senate Bill 5823, which would lower the approval threshold for school construction bonds to a 50% simple majority. It remains a priority of mine to get our state to a simple majority and invest in more jobs and in better, safer learning environments for our students.

If local communities want to support their public school students, educators, and families, the state should clear the path to success.

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