Levy cost FAQ

Q: Why do schools need levies?

A: Schools are not fully funded by the state. Districts rely on voter-approved levies to bridge the funding gap and pay for what our students need. For instance, the state only funds nine nurses for our 53,000 students. Levies help fund 63. In Seattle, all local levies stay in our city to fund our schools. These levies are critical to the health and safety of our schools.

Q: When I look at tax information from King County, it looks like my EP&O levy taxes go way up. Why is the tax rate on Prop. 1, the EP&O levy, seem higher this year compared to 2019?

A: 2019 is an unusual year due to legislative changes that created a one-year dip in property taxes (thus forcing districts to make cuts), before returning to more typical rates in 2020. The 2020 rate is more fairly compared to the 2018 rate.

Here’s a chart the district has used to communicate the drop in the tax rate. And the overall tax rate will drop in years 2021 and 2022. The levy rates tend to be highest the first year, and then drop over the three or six-year cycle. For instance, the 2020 BEX V rate of 90 cents is almost the same as the BEX IV levy rate in its first year almost six years ago.

Q: Why is the district asking for more money in its EP&O levy than what it’s allows to collect?

A: This is entirely legal and, given the circumstances, appropriate avenue for the district to take. Unfortunately, the legislature did not fully fund the actual cost of what it takes to provide a high-quality public education for all of our kids.  The legislature then compounded the problem by imposing an arbitrarily low cap on the amount the District can collect from voters to help bridge this gap for their local schools.  The District hopes the legislature recognizes and fixes this problem.  All the District is doing here is asking the voters whether they would approve a higher amount should the legislature raise the cap.  If the legislature does not raise the cap, then taxpayers will not pay the higher amount.  The District will never collect more taxes than what the law allows. 

This is a prudent and efficient approach.  Given that this is a three-year levy, seeking voter authorization now allows the District immediately to take advantage of an extra funding option for our kids’ schools should the legislature grant it.  And this approach is similar to what school districts historically have done in their levy asks, where not every dollar authorized by voters ends up being collected.  Further, if the District does not receive voter authorization now, then it would need to put on another special election in the middle of this levy cycle at the cost of around $1 million.  That is money better spent on our children and their classrooms. 

Q: Isn’t it a fact that Seattle homeowners will pay higher property taxes?

A: The District’s proposed levies are renewals at the same or lower tax rates as the current levies.  Because they are renewals, what property owners are being asked to pay to help support kids in their local schools does not change and, in fact, will go down over the life of the operations levy.  What is different, however, is that the legislature increased the state property tax.  The problem for Seattle’s kids is that the increase in the state property tax does not necessarily go to help their schools.  In fact, what the state collects in property taxes from Seattle is redistributed statewide.  We owe it to our kids to make sure their schools and education do not suffer as a result of the state choosing to change the tax structure in this way.

Q: Isn’t creating higher local levies in property rich districts like Seattle just creating the same sort of rich v. poor district inequities the legislature just tried to fix?

A: The state constitution requires that the legislature amply fund our public schools.  The threshold issue is whether the state is providing funding that allows our districts to provide an excellent education to all children.  If not, then the state needs to step up to do so.  But in the interim it should, at the very least, allow school districts to fill the gaps through local levies.  Right now the state is creating “equality” through underfunding certain districts in order to fund others, which is hardly equitable.  And certainly not what our kids and families deserve.

For more FAQs, you can also visit the School District Levy FAQ page: