The state is constitutionally required to "amply" fund "basic education." It is one area where Olympia fails our students.
That's not just our opinion. The state Supreme Court shares it. (Along with school officials across the state.)
The school funding situation is bad and getting worse.
Schools in the Tri-Cities now depend on levies and levy equalization money for about 20 percent of their budgets. A fraction of that money pays for a few extras -- like athletic programs -- but most if it pays for essentials, like teachers, books and transportation.
The state is essentially pushing the burden of funding a fifth of the cost of basic education onto the backs of the local voters.
In recent years, the Legislature has cut school spending, although it hasn't cut more than 200 unfunded mandates local schools are required to meet.
This year will be no different. Exactly how much the Legislature will cut is still to be seen.
The uncertainty includes what the lawmakers will do about levy equalization dollars. These are funds the state matches with eligible districts that approve their levies.
The money is supposed to help give kids in poorer districts the same shot at a good education as kids in rich districts. But the money could be reduced or eliminated entirely.
Schools should not have to come to local voters every few years to ask for money for school nurses and counselors and transportation.
But they do.
Until there is a fix from the Legislature, districts have to ask voters to make up the shortfall, again.
You can't blame Tri-City school officials. They have been steadily chipping away at their costs, reducing the number of teachers and administrators. That means larger classrooms and workloads, but everyone recognizes the necessity.
Districts even are in the process of restructuring athletic leagues to reduce travel costs.
Without the funding that is provided by levies, schools would look very different. We don't think anyone would like it.
Ballots will be in the mail this week for Pasco, Kennewick and Richland, as well as other districts across the Mid-Columbia.
In each case, the school districts are asking for a replacement levy for area schools. This is not a new tax. It is a replacement tax, although all the districts are asking for a little more than the current rate.
School districts set the levy at a dollar amount. That total is divided among homeowners to arrive at the levy rate. Depending on the appreciation of property and the new building in any district, the "actual" rate of a levy historically is lower than the "expected" rate that appears on the ballot.
We will break it down for you by district, but our overall message is kids should not be penalized for adults' failure to do what they are supposed to.
Legislators are supposed to provide for education. They do not. Voters should approve their local levies.
Kennewick taxpayers have been paying $3.28 for $1,000 appraised value of their home. The proposed levy is for $3.38 the first year and $3.48 the second year. Again, this probably is higher than the tax rate actually will be.
In 2010, the voters approved a rate of $3.34 and ended up paying only $3.28.
Richland taxpayers have been paying $3.09 for $1,000 appraised value of their home. The proposed levy is for $3.14 and would increase property taxes by $5 a year on a $100,000 home.
Pasco taxpayers have been paying $4.36 for $1,000 appraised value of their home. The proposed levy is for $4.51. This amount is four cents less than what the voters approved in 2010. And with the growth in Pasco, the actual rate should certainly come in lower.
Last year, Pasco voters soundly rejected a bond measure to build new schools. The levy that is before voters now is a completely different proposal.
The bond would have been a new tax. The levy replaces an expiring tax.
Voters typically have been supportive of levies in the Tri-Cities. The most recent double-levy failure was in 1972 in Pasco.
It hurts when a levy fails -- especially if it fails twice, because the law doesn't allow administrators to approach voters for another year after a second failure.
The damage can be long lasting. One of the casualties of the Pasco double failure in 1972 was the orchestra program. Strings were reintroduced to Pasco four years ago.
For all of the districts, ballots will be mailed to voters this week and are due back by Feb. 14.
Be sure to vote, and while you're at it, think about sending a note to your legislators demanding they fix the education funding mess.
The Herald editorial board recommends voters approve their local school levies.