Senate overwhelmingly approves Honeyford bill to support small schools

Today the Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure sponsored by Sen. Jim Honeyford to help provide school districts serving low-income communities with flexibility in financing their facilities.

“We’ve heard the majority talk a lot about equity this session, but one of the areas lacking equity the most is in funding for our lower-income and small rural schools, many of which are often in poor or failing condition,” said Honeyford, R-Sunnyside. “This measure is critically important to our small, rural, and low-income communities, especially communities of color. It gives these schools the funding options they need to help address the concerns of individual communities, including those facing incredible wealth disparities.

“I’m glad to see the Senate support this effort in such a broad and bipartisan way. I hope that our friends in the House will also see the need to put all the talk about equity this session in action where it actually matters the most – helping our students in small districts, lower property-value districts and districts with few if any financing options. These students are in desperate need for the help this bill would provide.”

Substitute Senate Bill 5181 would allow school districts to create partnerships and limited liability companies, and enter into leases, loans, and other agreements with public and private entities, for the purpose of utilizing certain federal tax credit programs to finance school facilities.

Honeyford points to programs like the federal New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) as examples of revenue sources that should be accessible to property-poor districts that have exhausted all other options; however, state law makes it difficult for these very districts to apply for and receive such funds.

Honeyford’s bill would permit eligible districts to work together to qualify for the NMTC program, the federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit program, or similar federal tax-credit programs. Because these programs do not involve local taxes, they could offer crucial help to lower-income districts needing to finance school construction, in spite of limited state bonds, declining trust revenue, and local bonds that are difficult to pass.

SSB 5181, which received the support of the Washington State School Directors Association, passed the Senate 48-1. It now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.