Currently school districts are allowed to levy maintenance and operation (M&O) levies of up to 28 percent of their state and federal revenues. That maximum is scheduled to revert to 24 percent in 2018. This is the levy cliff.
The House passed a levy bill (SHB 1059) earlier this year to keep the maximum at 28 percent in 2018. (Under the bill, it would revert to 24 percent in 2019.) Yesterday the Senate passed a bill (ESB 5023) that would make the same change. Importantly, though, the Senate levy bill also includes accountability provisions similar to those in the Senate-passed education funding plan and the education plan proposed by Sen. Mullet.
Under the Senate levy bill, beginning with levies collected in 2018, levy collections would have to be deposited in a local revenue subfund in order “to enable a detailed accounting of the amount and object of expenditures from the levy collections.” Also, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction would have to approve the programs and activities that would be funded via an M&O levy before the election. This would ensure that M&O levies “are not used for basic education programs.”
(The Senate education funding plan goes further than this, requiring the state auditor to review district spending to ensure that levies aren’t used for basic education purposes.)
Keeping the maximum levy percentage at 28 percent in 2018 is included in both the House- and Senate-passed education funding plans. Passing ESB 5023 means that the policy will get on the books faster (if the House approves the bill) than it would if the Legislature waited to pass the levy change along with a full education funding plan. (After 2018, the maximum levies allowed in the House- and Senate-passed education funding plans would diverge—the House would allow up to 27 percent in 2019, 26 percent in 2020, and 24 percent in 2021, and the Senate would not allow any levies in 2019 but would allow up to 10 percent thereafter.)