After several failed attempts and a partial veto from Governor Jay Inslee, the Washington state legislature passed on Friday, June 30 a bill that supporters believe will finally address the land shortage issue many school districts face while looking for new school facility locations. The bill was sent to Inslee on Monday and is expected to be signed.
HB 2243 received overwhelming support in the state House, 78-15, along with a solid 30-19 majority in the Senate. It allows districts to build urban schools in rural areas – outside the county’s urban growth area (UGA) – something that has until now been mostly prohibited by the state Growth Management Act, as well as the Growth Management Hearing Board.
The primary sponsor is Rep. Bob McCaslin (R-4), who also sponsored ESHB 1017; that bill was partially vetoed by Inslee, effectively restricting its parameters to Pierce County, where the Bethel School District had suffered a legal blow when the hearings board forbade them from building a new high school outside the UGA because some of the students would be from urban areas.
“I am grateful for the tireless bipartisan work that has gone into ensuring overcrowded school districts across the state will no longer be burdened by a one-size-fits-all approach to growth,” McCaslin said in a statement. “We did not give up on this effort, and the result is a strong, comprehensive solution that will enable school districts to better serve students, teachers and their local communities. This is the right policy for our state, and I could not be more pleased by the overwhelming support the bill received this morning.”
Following Inslee’s veto, McCaslin had initially expressed skepticism that another bill would be introduced. During the second special session, Sen. Hans Zeiger (R-25) introduced SB 5945, which extended the same exemption for Bethel to other school districts, provided the new facilities were located within two miles of the UGA.
However, HB 2243 does not include the two-mile restriction, though cities and counties still must agree to the school siting. According to the bill report, the State Department of Commerce must submit a report to the legislature in 2023 on schools built or planned to be built outside the UGA, including the following:
- The number of schools built and their location;
- The number of urban and rural students served; and
- A cost analysis of schools built outside of UGAs.
Rep. Strom Petersen (D-21) told colleagues on the House floor Friday that “We understand that there are troubled school districts around the state and this might be part of the solution, or it might not. But we know in just a few years we’ll be getting some really important information back to see if this is actually having a positive effect to some of our school districts around the state.”
If signed by Inslee, the bill will take effect in three months.