"Initiative would trump Legislature, add school funds"

"Gov. Gary Locke's visit to Bremerton last week, the purpose of which was to garner support for a bill to shake some funding out of the state's reserve fund for public education, was to no avail: his proposal died in committee.But its spirit lives on in an initiative filed yesterday by the Seattle-based K-12 2000 committee. Both proposals swerve around spending caps from the voter-approved Initiative 601 and mandatory public votes for new taxes required by Initiative 695.Comprised of school board members and levy campaigners from across the Evergreen State, K-12 2000 hopes the voters will approve the school-funding effort that the legislature refused to hear.It will shift responsibility back from the local to the state level, explained Russ Hartman, Bremerton School Board president. We have had two periods in recent history where the state funding has dropped precipitously: once in the 1970s and now.Both Locke's failed proposal and the new initiative aim to address Washington's dubious distinction. This state has the nation's third most-crowded classrooms.The initiative uses Locke's Learning Improvement Property Tax Credit as a baseline. Locke's proposal would have earmarked $18.5 million in assessed property taxes for improvements in education, ranging from pay for more teachers to summer school.The bill and the initiative both fly below the I-695 radar (requiring a vote of the people for new taxes) because no taxes would be raised and no new taxes would be assessed: the money is already assessed, and sits, unused, as capital surplus.The revenue windfall would mean $140 per student in the Central Kitsap and Bremerton school districts in its first year, plus $450 per student in in each of five subsequent years.That's where the governor's proposal ends. But the K-12 2000 initiative adds two other funding mechanisms: the state lottery and state surplus funds.We take the presently undedicated proceeds from the state lottery and put it into school construction accounts for K-12 and colleges and universities, Hartman explained. Currently, lottery money goes into the general fund on an unrestricted basis.Second, the K-12 2000 proposal creates a new education fund for state surplus revenues. We provide in the initiative that if revenue comes into the state in surplus of the I-601 cap, 75 percent of those revenues would go into a fund we're creating called the Student Achievement Fund to be distributed to schools, Hartman said.The remaining 25 percent of money over the I-601 spending cap will go into a reserve account.The K-12 2000 initiative caps state fundraising at 90 percent of the national per student average. That's in contrast to the current 70 percent level.If the money coming from the state is 90 percent plus the federal funds runs a total at about 96 percent. Plus local funding would bring the school funding to about 100 percent - and then levies would truly be a supplement, Hartman said."

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