The Washington Senate approved sweeping changes for education funding last week in its answer to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, but Tri-City teachers unions say it’s the wrong approach.
The proposal calls for a single statewide property tax rate of $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value, eliminating local levies and providing funding per student for districts.
The bill also limits how much of a district’s budget can be spent on teacher salaries and forbids teachers from striking. And it eliminates parts of voter-approved Initiatives 732 and 1351, which lowered class sizes and gave teachers cost of living increases.
“I believe this is a bold idea and it’s a complete idea,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “It isn’t a policy statement. It’s not a plan. It’s an honest to gosh complete bill.”
Senate Bill 5607 was approved, 25-24, and is now before the House Committee on Appropriations.
While Schoesler and Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, lauded the bill, Denise Hogg, president of Kennewick’s teachers union, said Gov. Jay Inslee’s school funding proposal is the better choice for meeting the demands of McCleary.
A third proposal by House Democrats mirrors some of Inslee’s plan.
The Pasco Association of Educators said on its Facebook page that the Senate bill is an attack on educators rather than actually helping students.
Hogg agreed, saying “It’s punitive. It’s reckless. I don’t think it’s good for our kids.”
State lawmakers have spent five years grappling with state Supreme Court’s demand that the state fully fund basic education.
While state law outlines the items included in a basic education, the court did not set a way to pay for them or agree on how much money is needed to meet that obligation.
The justices agreed that the school district maintenance and operations levies can’t be spent to pay for basic education.
I believe this is a bold idea and it’s a complete idea. It isn’t a policy statement. It’s not a plan. It’s an honest to gosh complete bill.
Sen. Mark Schoesler
The Senate’s plan departs from funding schools based on the number of staff members that a “prototypical school” needs. Instead the state would provide districts at least $12,500 for each student. Districts would receive more money for students who are impoverished, English language learners or in special education programs.
The model is similar to one implemented in Massachusetts.
While some legislative districts are going to see higher tax rates under the Senate’s plan, Schoesler and Brown stressed it is going to provide relief to Mid-Columbia taxpayers.
In Pasco, it would mean a reduction in property taxes of $2.52 per $1,000 of assessed value. For an owner of a $200,000 home, taxes would drop by $504.
“We know that Pasco is going to have to run a bond issue for more classroom space,” Schoesler told the Herald’s editorial board. “If the voters have $2.52 in levy rate exchange, I think they’re going to be more willing to accept a bond sometime in the future.”
Kennewick property owners would see a reduction of $1.64 per $1,000 of assessed value. Richland would see a drop of $1.51 per $1,000.
The decrease would mean $328 less in Kennewick property taxes and $302 less in Richland for the same $200,000 home.
The Senate bill increases the funding that districts would receive per student, but not as much as the governor’s proposal.
Inslee’s plan calls for increasing the money per student by $3,100 for Pasco, $2,400 in Kennewick and $2,200 in Richland.
By comparison, the Senate proposal increases funding per student by $1,482 in Pasco, $1,537 in Kennewick and $1,523 in Richland.
Rather than changing property taxes, Inslee’s plan increases business and occupation taxes, adds a carbon tax, a capital gains tax and eliminates certain tax preferences.
It’s punitive. It’s reckless. I don’t think it’s good for our kids. They should all have the same access to the same quality education.
Denise Hogg, Kennewick Education Association
Schoesler criticized that plan for adding additional taxes.
“If you look at Gov. Inslee’s plan, every single household will pay $400 to $500 more in a carbon tax,” he said. “More taxpayers win with our plan.”
The Democrats’ plan cuts the amount of the local levy to 24 percent of the money districts receive from state and local sources, but it doesn’t contain any provisions preventing the districts from using the money for basic education. The House proposal also is still in committee.
Pasco, Richland and Kennewick school district administrators said it is too early in the process to take a stand on the proposals.
Schoesler and Brown said the plan reforms the education system, including eliminating the current pay scale. The plan increases the starting salaries of teachers to $45,500 a year.
And teacher compensation can’t account for more than 80 percent of a district’s budget. The cap allows districts to reward the top performing teachers by increasing their pay.
“How often have we really wanted to reward those outstanding teachers and there hasn’t been a mechanism to allow us to do that,” Brown said.
While the Senate plan addresses starting salaries, it removes all other state mandates for teacher pay.
Pasco’s and Kennewick’s unions favor the governor’s plan because it starts pay for teachers at $54,500 and provides money for additional training. Officials with the Richland teachers union could not be reached.
“If you look at the governor’s budget, it’s going to increase salaries, it’s going to provide payment for advanced degrees,” Hogg said. “It’s nice that our governor respects teachers and wants to provide us with more training.”
If you look at the governor’s budget, it’s going to increase salaries, it’s going to provide payment for advanced degrees. It’s nice that our governor respects teachers and wants to provide us with more training.
Denise Hogg, Kennewick Education Association
She said they also are concerned about the Senate bill’s provision allowing professionals to begin working as a teacher if they go through a shortened certification process.
“It devalues all the hard work that I’ve done for the last 37 years,” she said. “They’re saying if you pass this little test you can come teach our kids. ... They probably know way more about science than I do, but does that mean they can teach?”
Schoesler and Brown touted that provision as a way to fill more teacher openings with talented professionals, such as the highly educated scientists and engineers in the Tri-Cities.
“They can teach at (Columbia Basin College) or WSU, but not in public schools,” Schoesler noted.
Hogg said teachers worry about the removal of pay increases based on seniority and additional education. The Senate’s plan institutes pay increases based on criteria developed by the Educational Service Districts.
The Senate proposal also would limit class-size reduction efforts only to kindergarten through third-grade.
The Washington Educators Association also is critical of the Senate plan and is advising teachers to contact their legislators with their concerns.