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Legislators drawing lines over teacher pay, school funding

Sen. Andy Hill's new bill attempts to help the state's homeless and soothe ruffled feathers in Olympia. Credit: John Stang

Despite uncertain prospects, Democrats on Wednesday introduced bills to raise pay for teachers.

Under one proposal, the state would sharply increase its allocation for the beginning annual salary of a rookie teacher, to $52,074 a year. Another bill would restore cost-of-living increases to teachers.

Rep, Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia, introduced the teachers' minimum salary bill, while Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, sponsored the cost-of-living-increase bill. Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, introduced a bill Wednesday to require a minimum wage of $15 an hour for non-teaching school employees. The Senate Democrats recently introduced a bill similar to Hunt's legislation.

Currently, the state allocates $34,048 a year to a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience. Then individual school districts negotiate with their individual unions on how much local money would go to each teacher on top of the state allocation. The state allocations actually follow sliding scales that increase with a teacher's years of experience and extra education.

The language in Reykdal's bill suggests that a compensation task force's analysis showed that Washington's teachers earn roughly $15,000 less than comparable jobs in the non-education world. His bill raises the state allocation for a rookie teacher by about $18,000, but any additional pay would still be up to each district's school board and union.

Gov. Jay Inslee had earlier suggested restoring an annual teachers' cost-of-living increase beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. Washington's voters passed an initiative several years ago to require that cost-of-living increases be given to teachers annually based on a formula using inflation. However, recent legislatures, led entirely or in part by Democrats, has routinely suspended that cost-of-living raise for the past few years as a budget-balancing measure.

Inslee has called for $200 million in extra appropriations this session to pay for the cost-of-living increase and to help the state meet goals set by the Washington Supreme Court to fix student-teacher ratios and other facets by mid-2019. The rough split of the $200 million is estimated at $50 million for the cost-of-living increases and the rest for the Supreme Court-mandated improvements. The Supreme Court recently said the state is financially behind on meeting the obligations of the court's 2012 ruling and has given the Legislature until April 30 to present a catch-up plan.

At a Wednesday press conference, Republican House and Senate leaders said they have not seen Wednesday's Democratic House bills, including the one to raise minimum teachers' salaries, and could not comment on them.

When asked, Republican House and Senate leaders would not say whether they would support oppose cost-of-living increases for teachers, a proposal that has been in play for a couple weeks. However, those leaders appeared very cool to the idea of tackling cost-of-living increases this session. Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said the overall school funding system must be reformed to trim the share that local school districts bear.  Dammeier and Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and chairman of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, said these education funding issues are too complex to resolve in the current 60-day session.

Also, Hill said there is a possibility that the Senate will offer no supplemental 2014-2015 budget this session, which could have major implications for Inslee's $200 million education proposal.  Hill said any Republican decision on a supplemental budget will probably be made in a couple weeks. This year, the Senate — dominated by a coalition of 24 Republicans and two Democrats — is supposed to unveil the first proposed supplemental budget in the Legislature, while the Democratic-controlled House will follow in week or so. This order alternates each year. Supplemental budgets normally make course corrections and tackle unexpected expenses in the year after the biennial budget is approved. The last biennial budget was passed in 2013 for 2013-2015.

Inslee and legislative Democrats contend that a supplemental budget is needed. So conceivably, a scenarios could surface of Republicans wanting no supplemental budget, and Democrats having to fight to get one — and more funding for schools and teachers.

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