How to Restore Fair School Construction State Matching Funds
The Time has come to find a better solution.
After the failure of all 12 school construction bonds in Washington State in April 2012, communities and school boards need to ask themselves a simple question. Do we want to continue the unfair and unconstitutional process of asking local homeowners to bear nearly the entire cost of building schools – and run a 90% chance of school bonds going down to defeat?
Or do we instead want to go to Court and ask a judge to demand that the State legislature comply with our State Constitution by providing fair school construction State Matching funds so that the entire burden for building schools does not fall on the backs of local homeowners?
The Snoqualmie Valley School District has had seven school construction bonds in the past eight years. The five largest ones have all gone down to defeat.
Yet at the same time, due to our State legislature raising the levy lid from the original 10% maximum to 28% maximum, school related property taxes in our School District have skyrocketed by 72% in just the past 3 years:
Had the 2011 school bond passed, local school related property taxes for homeowners in the Snoqualmie Valley School District would have nearly doubled in just 4 years.
Such inflated local property taxes not only increase the risk that school bonds will go down to defeat, they also increase the risk that school operating levies may be defeated – a danger that would lead to the firing of more than 20% of the teachers in our school district in a single year!
There is another way that protects our local tax payers and our children and their teachers and gets us the schools we need for a fraction of the cost of past bond proposals.
The school construction crisis in our State is not unique. Nearly every State in the nation has faced a similar problem in the past 20 years. The problem is that corporate lobbyists now dominate State legislatures all across the US. BILLIONS of dollars which used to go toward the operation, construction and repair of schools now goes into tax breaks for wealthy multinational corporations which pay for the elections of the legislators who give them these massive tax breaks. Here is the increase in tax exemptions in Washington State in just the past 10 years:
Over 90% of these tax exemptions benefit the richest one percent, with much of this wealth being shipped out of State and even out of the country, creating jobs overseas instead of here in Washington State. In shifting the tax burden to our middle class, and causing the firing of thousands of public servants, these massive tax exemptions for billionaires do not create jobs. Instead, they cost jobs. The way to increase School Funding is not by transferring the tax burden from wealthy corporations to local homeowners. Instead, it is by closing the billions in tax breaks for wealthy corporations.
Sadly, while the House and Senate have cut $3 billion dollars from school funding in the past 3 years, including hundreds of millions in cuts to school repair and construction funding, they have not cut a single penny from tax breaks for wealthy corporations. In fact, they have expanded these tax give aways by hundreds of millions of dollars.
In order to pay for these corporate tax breaks, State Matching funds for building schools have been cut by billions of dollars.
School Boards and private citizens in 14 States have taken their corporate controlled legislatures to Court to demand that their legislators comply with Constitutional requirements to restore adequate and fair State School Construction Matching funds.
Over 90% of these court challenges have been successful in dramatically increasing school construction funding. Below is a chart coming school construction funding in States with Court rulings versus States where school boards have not yet gone to court:
State School Construction Matching Funds in the 14 States with Mandated Court orders to provide children with an adequate education is more than 4 times greater than in States where the Court has not weighed in on the question of whether States are required to provide schools as well as provide teachers.
Because the Washington State Constitution has stronger provisions than any other State guaranteeing our children the right to a basic education, and because our State Supreme Court has already clarified that this right includes funding from stable and dependable sources, which exclude a reliance on undependable local property tax bond elections, and because the State legislature used to actually provide the primary burden for school funding in our State, it is highly likely that a school construction lawsuit would succeed in our State. It is also likely that a School Construction Lawsuit will be the only way to restore school construction funding in our State to the national average of a 50-50 State- local match.
In many States, the State legislature bears the PRIMARY BURDEN to pay for school construction and repair:
States which carry the Primary Burden for School Construction
Source: 2008 OPSI School Construction Funding Transparency Study, Berk and Associates, www.berkandassociates.com and 2010 State Capital Spending on PK-12 Schools, National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. http://www.ncef.org/pubs/state_capital_spending_on_school_facilities.pdf
The Cost to our Community of Failing to Go to Court
In 2003, the Snoqualmie Valley School District passed a $54 million bond to build a new middle school (Twin Falls) for a cost of $30 million and a new elementary school (Cascade View) for a cost of $15 million. There was not a single penny in State Matching funds. Thus, this entire financial burden of $54 million unfairly and illegally fell on the backs of local homeowners.
Sadly, our school board failed to demand not only fair treatment for our children, but also fair treatment for local tax payers. This alone cost local homeowners $27 million in absent State Matching funds and increased local property taxes.
In 2007 and 2008, our school board tried to pass a $200 million bond to build a second high school and a 6th elementary school. Again, there was almost nothing in State Matching funds. But instead of taking the legislature to court and demanding fair treatment for our children and our local tax payers, again our school board did nothing. As a consequence, three times this bond went down to defeat. Had the legislature been required to provided $100 million in State Matching Funds, we would have a second high school in North Bend today and a 6th Elementary School on Snoqualmie Ridge and neither the 2009 $27 million bond (to add portables to Mount Si High School) or the $56 million 2011 bond would even have been needed.
Thus, the cost to our school district just since 2003 of failing to take the legislature to court has been at least $40 million.
The Financial Harm to Tax Payers in our School District resulting from the lack of fair State Matching funds has been over $40 million
Thus, the cost of failing to take the legislature to court has been at least 40 times greater than it would have cost to take the legislature to court back in 2003.
But the cost to our children has been even greater than the cost to our tax payers. Because of the failure to build a second high school and a 6th Elementary School, many of our children have been forced to spend their school days in particle board boxes instead of permanent school buildings. Our “un-housed student” rate is 60% greater than the State average and nearly 3 times greater than the national average:
There are therefore 5 main reasons we should take the legislature to court:
First, court school construction funding challenges have already succeeded in 14 other States. Over 90% of challenges in other States during the past 20 years have been successful.
Second, our State Constitution is the strongest in the nation, increasing our odds of success even higher.
Third, our Supreme Court has already ruled on several occasions that the State legislature bears the primary Constitutional responsibility for funding schools in our State.
Fourth, the harm to local tax payers of not taking the legislature to court has exceeded $40 million during just the past 8 years. That comes to more than $5 million per year in increased local property taxes. This is money taken not only from local tax payers – but money taken out of the local economy and thereby reducing jobs in our community.
Fifth, the harm to our children has been even greater. We must build a 6th elementary school as soon as possible. And we will eventually need a second high school.
A BETTER PLAN to get the schools our kids need AND be fair to local tax payers
Because even a successful lawsuit will take a couple of years, we should sue the State now so that when the time comes to build the second high school, local homeowners will only have to pay HALF of the $80 million cost. The savings to our community will be $40 million. But the real benefit is that children in growing communities will once again be able to get the schools they need to have a fair chance at success in life.
Below is a PDF of a Court Petition we have drafted to begin the process of restoring fair school construction matching funds in Washington State.
For more information on the harm inflicted on our economy by tax breaks to wealthy corporations, and the petition to sue the State legislature for fair national average State School Construction Matching funds, please visit our website: realwashingtonstatebudget.info.
Regards, David Spring M. Ed. Director Fair School Funding Coalition
DOWNLOAD THE SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION LAWSUIT PETITION: