Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn unveiled his own plan Tuesday for the state to comply with a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling on education and a voter-approved 2014 initiative to dramatically reduce student-teacher ratios.
Dorn contended the Washington House and Senate's education spending proposals -- while better than previous years -- do not go far enough toward meeting the state's legal obligations. "I'm not seeing a complete plan from either house," Dorn said.
In broad strokes, Dorn called for the Legislature to wean school districts from using local levies to pay for teachers, whose salaries are considered by the Supreme Court's ruling to be part of the state's obligations to provide basic education. So, the state needs to pay teachers' salaries without local levies, he said. "You can't use local levies for basic education and instruction. ... We need a bill to say what local levies can be used for," Dorn said.
He wants the state's 2015-2017 budget to allocate $2.2 billion for reducing teacher-student ratios in Grades K-3, as required by the Supreme Court as well as last year's Initiative 1351. The Democratic-controlled House currently proposes spending $1.4 billion, while the GOP-controlled Senate offers $1.3 billion. Dorn said a plan on raising money for the Office of Public Instruction's overall proposal would be announced on Thursday.
Also, Dorn proposes keeping Initiative 1351 somewhat intact in higher grades. I-1351 calls for teacher-student ratios in Grades 4-12 to be in a range of one teacher to 22 to 25 students, depending on the type of class. Dorn wants to aim for one teacher for 24 students in Grades 4-6 and one teacher for 27 students in Grades 7-12.
And he wants to extend I-1351's deadline to reduce all the teacher-student ratios from the current 2018-2019 time frame to 2020-2021. The extra time is needed to build classrooms, to get equipment, and to find and hire quality teachers, he said. Also sufficient nurses, librarians, custodians, food workers and security people need to be hired, he said.
Dorn also proposes collective bargaining between the state government and teachers, either on a statewide basis or by regions. This is because the other reforms would take local levies out of the teacher-pay picture, and put salary responsibility totally on the state. Dorn said regional contracts might be set up because of the different costs-of-living in different parts of Washington. The bargaining would also cover health insurance.
The 2015 legislative session is scheduled to end April 26, meaning that Dorn's recommendations are arriving very late in the 105-day period. However, Dorn noted that the current session – marked by major budget and financing differences between Democrats and Republicans -- will likely go into significant overtime. That would give leaders on both sides time to absorb and work his recommendations into their final budget talks -- that is, if they are inclined to consider his proposals.
The Senate's lead budget negotiator, Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, was not available for comment.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said his caucus is considering some levy reform and teacher compensation ideas, which might be unveiled soon. But he voiced doubts about getting the Supreme Court improvements budget above $1.4 billion for 2015-2017. "Out budget is the high-water mark right now," he said. "I can't imagine it going higher."