Statewide solution for locating new schools

Along with population growth in many parts of Washington, there is increased demand on public schools to accommodate more students and greater competition for buildable lands. Earlier this year the Legislature passed a bill to provide more options for siting schools, but key sections allowing schools to be built outside existing boundaries were vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee, restricting the option only to Pierce County. Following ongoing work with stakeholders, Sen. Hans Zeiger proposed Senate Bill 5945 allowing schools to be built outside the boundaries, while maintaining the integrity of open space.

“Washington is one of the fastest growing states in the country and the cost and availability of land within existing boundaries presents significant challenges for some school districts,” said Zeiger, R-Puyallup, who serves as chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “We must be able to provide the classrooms necessary to educate all of our students not only now, but well into the future.”

Washington’s Growth Management Act does not allow building outside of designated boundaries to prevent sprawl. This has kept some districts from siting and constructing the new schools needed to keep pace with enrollment or modernization needs.

Zeiger’s proposal would allow schools to be built in rural areas if they are located within two miles of the existing growth boundary.

Following the governor’s veto of earlier legislation restricting it only to school districts in Pierce County, lawmakers have continued to hear from other districts running into similar issues.

“At a time when we’re focused on providing a high-quality education for all children, we must give school districts the tools necessary to address the needs of students,” said Zeiger.

The bill was introduced during the Legislature’s second special session to continue ongoing work. Lawmakers are still in session working toward a new two-year state operating budget. SB 5945 will be the subject of a public hearing in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee on Monday, June 12 at 2:30 p.m. in the John Cherberg Building on the state capitol campus.