Senate overwhelmingly approves Honeyford bill to support small schools

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

“Many of our small rural school districts don’t have a way to get the financing needed to modernize their buildings, which are often in poor or failing condition,” said Honeyford, R-Sunnyside. “This bill would create a construction-grant program specifically for our smallest schools and provide them with an avenue to address their needs.

“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 help our students, who are in small districts that struggle to pass bonds and levies, and may be in desperate need for this help.”

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.

SB 5572, which 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, passed the Senate 46-1. It now moves to the House of Representatives for its consideration.