Fortunato bill seeks relief for families from school taxes

Most of Washington’s public schools have been closed to in-person learning for nearly a year, forcing countless families to struggle at balancing work and childcare in addition to ensuring their children are learning remotely. State Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, sees the massive shift in how schools operate as a reason to bring fairness to the state tax code. His Senate Bill 5257 would exempt property owners from state and local school levies if their students are homeschooled or attend a private school.

“We’ve seen significant changes in how people are educating their children,” said Fortunato. “More and more parents have chosen to homeschool or send their students to private schools in the wake of this pandemic, and because of recent policy decisions on mandatory sex-ed policies. “Since the state is not living up to its obligation to provide basic education, parents are forced to pick up the slack, which is hitting family budgets. This bill will provide some financial relief and provide the children with the education they deserve.”

Projections indicate Washington’s public-school enrollment has declined by as much as 5 percent, equal to about 50,000 students. That has saved the state roughly $500 million this fiscal year alone, not including an additional $600 million in savings from reduced transportation costs.

Despite an economic downturn tied to the pandemic, and dire predictions for the 2021-23 budget made in mid-2020, state revenue growth is expected to remain positive. The state’s already bloated spending level could grow by an additional 7 percent without new taxes. Even so, and despite the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Fortunato noted, the Legislature’s majority Democrats are still pursuing more taxes to further boost state spending.

“The state’s budget is in good shape. We can afford to give parents some timely tax relief instead of growing government even more,” Fortunato said. “They can use those resources to help their children get the education they deserve – something the state is failing to do.”