It may have passed by the barest of margins last November, but a constitutional amendment in Washington state aimed at making it easier to approve school levies already appears to be having the effect supporters intended.
In the first test of the new rules, voters on Feb. 19 approved more than 50 property-tax-rate measures to fill out school districts’ operating and technology budgets, Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, the Democrat who chairs the state Senate’s education committee, told the Yakima Herald-Republic.
She said all those measures would have failed under the old rules, which required a 60 percent supermajority vote for passage. The new threshold for passage is 50 percent plus one vote. Of 10 districts in Yakima County that put levies before voters, all won—but only six with at least a 60 percent majority, according to the county auditor’s office.
Back in November, county voters had soundly rejected—by 62 percent to 38 percent—the constitutional amendment that last month allowed the four other districts to emerge as winners. Statewide, the measure passed by just 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent.
The amendment did not affect the 60 percent supermajority required for districts to issue school bonds, for long-term debt.
Not all Washington state districts were successful in passing their tax levies under the new rules. Several districts in Thurston County, for example, failed to break 50 percent of the vote.
Elsewhere in the country, the requirement of a simple majority is far from a guarantee that levy proposals will pass. In Ohio, for example, according to the state education department, voters rejected 88 out of 165 school levy proposals on ballots last week that also included the presidential-primary elections.
After last month’s Washington state outcomes, some editorial writers suggested that voters who generally oppose school tax proposals had been complacent about the narrower margin required and had not turned out to vote.
Voter awareness may be an important factor this spring, because additional levy proposals will be on ballots in special school elections scheduled for this week, April 22, and May 20, according to state election officials.
A version of this article appeared in the March 12, 2008 edition of Education Week