Understand the consequences of underfunded K-12 students

Local Levies and Bonds — The “enhancements” to Basic Ed?

Local Levies Play A Clear and Clearly Defined Funding Role

Funds raised through local school district levies and bonds account for significant portions of a district’s budget — levies often meet 20% of operating expenses, and bonds for capital improvements (buildings, furnishings, technology, etc) from 50-100%.

Local levy dollars are not supposed to be used to pay for Basic Ed — but are, in amounts so significant that in many districts less than 25% of total levy-generated dollars are applied as they should be.

By law, local levy revenues are intended for locally elected “enhancements” and legally restricted from paying for WA Basic Ed programs, but school districts don’t have choice and are paying more and more for Basic Ed with local dollars, in significant percentages

What Is The Levy Lid Act and Why Was It Passed?

NOTE: the levy lid law was amended by the Legislature in 2010 - many school districts are allowed to raise up to an additional 4% more over their previous lid.

Rep. Hunter (48th) is floating a 2012 proposal to stabilize funding.

In a major 1978 decision (Seattle School District No. 1 v. State, 585 P.2d 71, 978) interpreting constitutional provisions related to education, among other things, the Washington State Supreme Court found that school districts may use local tax levies to fund enrichment programs and programs outside the legislative definition of “basic education.” However, the use of local levies cannot reduce the state’s obligation to fund basic education.

At the same time that the Legislature defined and took on responsibility for fully funding a basic education program, they passed the Levy Lid Act. The act limits the amount of revenue that a school district can raise through maintenance and operation (M & O) levies. While local levy revenues made up 32 percent of total school district revenues prior to the levy failures of 1975 that precipitated the 1977 school funding lawsuit, they fell to less than 10 percent of total school district revenues after the enactment of the Levy Lid Act.

Since that time, the Legislature has made various changes to the Levy Lid Act ultimately increasing school districts’ ability to raise levy revenues. Currently, 205 of the 295 school districts have a levy lid of 24 percent. This means that revenue raised from local tax levies cannot exceed 24 percent of the district’s state and federal revenues. The other 90 school districts have a levy lid ranging from 24.01 percent to 33.90 percent. These 91 districts have higher levy lid authority because at the time the Levy Lid Act was passed, these districts raised a higher amount of their revenues through M & O levies.

Source: 2008 Citizen’s Guide to K-12 Finance prepared by staff of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Committee with staff of the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program (LEAP) Committee.

Simple Majority on Levies — Passed Feb. 19th, 2008!

The February ’08 vote was an historic ballot – the bill changed back our State Constitution’s 1943 requirement for local school levies raising local school operating funds to be decided by public vote with a simple majority rather than a 60% supermajority (60% plus 3/5s “Yes” votes of 40% of the previous election – whew!).


Why Simple Majority

School districts are heavily dependent upon the irreplaceable funding provided by local levies. In 2007, 225 school district levies were considered by WA voters — all but 1 received majority support from voters, but 32 of those that received 50% +1 failed because they did not get 60% of the vote. 

Every year, school districts from around the state fail local levies with 57%, 58% or even 59% of the vote of the people.

Why was the supermajority requirement imposed? The requirement was put into the State Constitution when the country was just emerging from the Great Depression and World War II – a period of economic uncertainty and property tax anxiety. Over 2,000 school districts existed and voters were often confused about these elections. Many property owners feared that higher property taxes would be passed by non-property owners resulting in a higher tax burden for them or even the loss of their home or farm.


Several important points on Simple Majority changes for levies:

The vote was separate from the vote on a particular levy – it simply allowed the public to vote upon a levy with Simple Majority.

EHJR 4204 was a constitutional amendment -- it was and is not a tax increase.

The ballot measure applies only to school levies. It does NOT apply to school bonds.

Our support for Simple Majority was in addition to and complimentary to our support for our own local levy campaign and elections.

School levies and Simple Majority are one component of many funding vehicles that put money into a local school district’s budget – about 19-24%, depending on the district. The largest funding source is the State’s funding of Basic Education (about 70%) which funding is provided for mainly out of the General Fund – a pool of the many state, local and federal taxes collected.



Funding Washington Schools

The Olympian—February 18, 2008 — School levies

Levies have become a pivotal part of every district’s budget, paying for additional classroom teachers and support staff, transportation and extracurricular activities, and special and gifted education. The simple truth is the state does not pay the costs of a basic education. Federal dollars are a pittance. That puts the burden on local taxpayers to fill the gap through local levy dollars.

Think of the levy requests as the maximum, not what property owners actually will pay when the county treasurer sends out the tax statements.

This is a real gut-check year. The economy has stalled. Companies are looking at cutbacks. Congress and President Bush are sending rebate checks in hopes of thwarting an economic recession.

Yet school districts have their hands outstretched seeking additional funds. The reality is the cost of education is going up. It requires more to do the same. And the public certainly is demanding more from public education in terms of preparing students for life beyond the classroom.

Washington lawmakers are not living up to their constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education. They are slighting parents and students in this state by cutting corners and changing funding formulas. As a result, levy dollars are desperately needed by school districts to make up the difference between what the state pays and what it actually costs to operate quality local schools. We encourage a “yes” vote.

Local School Levy Results: Check your County Elections Office



Nov. 2012 - PDF on Levies and Levy Equalizatio

Ed-op on Spokane’s 2012 levy

OSPI’s Info on Levies - Current Yr

OSPI’s Data on Levy Lid Authority, Rollbacks, and Local Effort Assistance (equalization)

Levy Campaign Resources from League of Ed Voter’s

LOEV offers an excellent library of resources on both understanding levies and bonds, and how to help run a levy campaign with your school district. If you are looking for help on successfully ruing a local levy or bond campaign, this is the resource to go to.


OSPI School District Data from ‘08-09 now available: specific reports include Funding per Pupil per District (9 pg PDF, avail. as Excel also plus a re-sort showing District ranking).

Letter to Editor Feb 2010 on a

Levy & Bond Measure: LWSD Kirkland’s Juanita HS Bond

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Ways & Means Chair Rep. Hunter is floating a 2012 bill proposing to stabilize and eventually increase revenue-neutral funding to public K-12 schools - his new blog page explains his proposal.