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Pay raises for teachers face uncertain future

State Rep. Hans Dunshee

At a hearing Tuesday, no one spoke against restoring a cost-of-living raise for teachers and other K-12 and community college employeet.

More than a dozen instructors and school support personnel. plus three education profession associations, spoke in favor of a bill to restore the suspended 1.3 percent cost-of-living raise for educators.

"This is my sixth year teaching, and I've never seen a COLA," fourth-grade teacher Katherine Redmond told the House Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday. Teachers and others talked about taking second jobs and being unable to send their kids to four-year colleges

"We're losing our best teachers to industry," said Tim Kopp, a science teacher from the Riverside district near Spokane. Chase Larson, a social studies teacher from Kennewick, said: "Three is a crisis in our profession. … Forty-six percent of teachers leave within five years. We're not hanging on to our talent."

Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, introduced the COLA bill. Voters passed a 2000 initiative enacting annual cost-of-living raises law in a 2000. Since then, the Legislature has suspended the raises for four of the past seven biennial budgets to balance the state's financial accounts. The last cost-of-living increase was in 2008.

Inflation has reduced the spending power of teachers' and other school employees' salaries. Dunshee said the bill addresses "a 16 percent wage cut in value that took place in the classroom in the last six years."

Gov. Jay Inslee pushed to restore the cost-of-living increases this session as part of his proposal to allocate an extra $200 million for education improvements ordered by the Washington Supreme Court in 2012. The Legislature appropriated  $982 million last year, the first year in the 2013-2015 fiscal biennium. Overall, the state will have to allocate an extra roughly $5 billion from 2013 to mid-2019 to meet the Supreme Court's requirements. Dunshee's bill would allocate $60.3 million for cost-of-living raises in 2014.

The bill will likely pass the Democratic-controlled House But Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — 24 Republicans and two Democrats that control that chamber — has been chilly toward appropriating any extra money in 2014.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Under the Dome page.

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