As Mid-Columbia school districts wait to see if voters will renew their operations levies, state lawmakers are looking at a bill that would prioritize K-12 education funding above all other state obligations.
House Bill 2533 is the Legislature's first attempt to address the issue since the state Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that Washington has failed to properly pay for education, violating its constitutional duty.
The bill will have a hearing in front of the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee at 8 a.m. today.
Area school officials are keeping an eye on HB 2533 and other attempts by the Legislature to provide for education, but they say it's too early to say how much it would help.
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"We need to change how we do business fundamentally at the legislative level," said Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill.
The state has battled budget deficits the past few years and cut education money. Lawmakers are looking at a $1 billion shortfall. The state Supreme Court ruled that any future cuts to education must be for educational, not fiscal reasons.
The bill introduced by Reps. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, and Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, was created in response to school districts' increased dependence on local levies.
"It's uneven. It's not fair," Danmeier said in a news release, adding, "Every child should have equal access to education, regardless of where they live."
The bill has bipartisan support, Dammeier said, but money isn't the only change needed.
"This is not about putting money into the same system. We also have to change the system," he said. "We have to make sure it's delivering for all of our students."
Hill said the Pasco School District has been shorted by $20 million because of state budget cuts, and passing a levy has become difficult.
Richland Superintendent Jim Busey said he wasn't familiar with the bill but would be paying close attention to it. His focus is to make sure the state doesn't cut education money any further this year.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed a $682 million cut and seeks a half-cent increase in the sales tax rate to backfill that cut.
Columbia Superintendent Lou Gates said he may attend today's hearing in Olympia to hear more about the bill.
The legislation wouldn't necessarily increase money for education, he said, but it would help stabilize it. And perhaps budgeting for the rest of the state's departments and agencies would be "more focused," Gates said.
North Franklin Superintendent Gregg Taylor said he was encouraged the bill would reprioritize state money, rather than require lawmakers to find new revenue.
-- Eric Francavilla of Murrow News Service contributed to this story.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org