Honeyford bill to support small schools approved by House

Today the state House of Representatives unanimously approved a measure sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford to help the state’s 150 smallest school districts pay for the modernization of their facilities.

“This is great news for our students who are in small districts that struggle to pass bonds and levies and may be in desperate need for this help,” explained Honeyford, R-Sunnyside.

The bill passed the House 97-0, after clearing the Senate 45-1 on Feb. 12. It now goes to the governor for his consideration.

“Many of our small rural school districts don’t have sufficient property value to allow them to access state School Construction Assistance Program financing, sometimes creating an environment with unhealthy conditions for students.

“This bill would create a construction-grant program specifically for our smallest schools and provide them with an avenue to address their needs. It would also provide access to our tribal compact schools, which is important for reducing the educational achievement gap faced by those students.”

Second Substitute Senate Bill 5572 would establish a small school district-modernization grant program for school districts and state/tribal compact schools that have 1000 or fewer enrolled students. Under Honeyford’s measure, the program would require that all projects eligible for modernization grants meet the requirements of the School Construction Assistance Program, except for estimated cost thresholds and local funding assistance percentages.

The bill also establishes prioritization criteria and an evaluation process for the committee to review and rank grant applications.

A similar bill was passed in 2019, but that measure died in the House. Honeyford was able to get a $20 million proviso in the capital budget, which allowed the state to create a temporary, smaller program under which four school districts were able to receive funding.

The grant program created by Honeyford’s bill was the highest priority of the Joint Legislative Task Force on Improving State Funding for School Construction.

It received the support of the Washington State School Directors Association, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington State School Directors’ Small School Advisory Committee.