The Washington House has passed a bill that would instruct the 2017 Legislature to finish fixing the way the state pays for public schools. The bill would set up a new education funding task force to find a compromise that would end the state’s overreliance on local school levies to pay for basic education.

Senator Jim Hargrove said at the Legislative Send-Off earlier this month “Our local levies are being used for basic ed right now, and the court said specifically that’s what is unconstitutional. So it’s really a two-pronged solution. You can’t just put in three and a half billion and not deal with somehow getting basic ed out of the local levies or we’ll still be in violation of the constitution.”

Currently small cities are paying higher levies on lower property values for what the state says should be the same education, in the same sized classroom.

Unconstitutional or not, school districts are on the February special election ballot in 12 cities throughout Grays Harbor asking for replacement levies. In most cases the levies currently comprise a good percentage of the schools maintenance and operating funding.

In Grays Harbor County, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, North Beach, McCleary, Montesano, Elma, Quinault, Cosmopolis, Wishkah, Mary M. Knight, Oakville, and Rochester school districts are asking voters for adopting of replacement maintenance and operations levies.
Cosmopolis School District is also seeking support to issue $2.5-million in bonds for renovations. If approved, the state will match the bond with another 2.5 million for the repairs.

Ballots need to be returned by February 9th.

The levy issue is the last hurdle to bringing lawmakers into compliance with the Washington high court’s so-called McCleary decision, in which the justices said school funding was not adequate or uniform. The Supreme Court has been holding the state in contempt because the Legislature has not made a plan to address the issue.

The proposal passed Monday, House Bill 2366, moves on to the Senate after a 64-34 House-vote in favor.

Donna Blankinship of the Seattle AP contributed to this story