Senate’s K-12 committee stymied by sticker shock

State Sen. Steve Litzow (R) Credit: Washington State Legislature

 

Sticker shock hit the Senate's Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee Friday morning.

That shock came at a public hearing on a Republican Senate bill to provide bonuses of 10 percent of base pay to math, science and special education teachers. 

The committee staff told the committee that state Office of the  Superintendent  of Public Instruction calculations showed that the bill would cost Washington an extra $69.2 million in 2013-2015, an extra $80 million in 2015-2017 and an extra $83.4 million in 2017-19.

At the same time, the Washington Education Association and the Association of Washington School Principals contended that the state is not suffering from shortages of math and science teachers.

All that gave pause to Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer, chairman of the K-12 Education Committee, and co-sponsor of the bill introduced by Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood. Litzow said the committee would have to ponder the cost estimates and the testimony on the abundance of math and science teachers before deciding whether to go ahead with the bill.

He was skeptical of the OSPI's cost estimates, contending the agency has a pattern of providing cost figures that are higher than expected for legislation. "We're going to push back on this," Litzow said. He plans to ask the State Auditor's Office to review OSPI's estimates in recent years on legislation and to find out how accurate those estimates have turned out to be.

Carrell's bill calls for science, math and special education teachers to receive bonuses through June 30, 2022. The bonuses would go to teachers designated as "experts" by criteria to be set by the Professional Educator Standards Board. To receive such a bonus, the expert teacher must spend at least 50 percent of his or her class time teaching science, math or special education.

The bill sets a June 30, 2014 deadline to map out how this approach would be put into action.

Both Lucinda Young of the WEA and Jerry Bender of the Association of Washington School Principals testified that there is not a shortage of science and math teachers. According to Bender, some principals have told him that there is a shortage of foreign language teachers and career and technical education instructors.

Still, Young said that teachers salaries overall do need to be addressed, noting a salary cut and the lack of  cost-of-living raises in recent years.  She said schools have problems keeping special education teachers and that the cost of bonuses for math and science teachers would be drastically more than a 10 percent bonus.

Bender said principals are worried about the personnel hassles that might arise over determining which qualified instructors teach more than 50 percent of their time in bonus-eligible classes.  

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