The 2016 Legislative Session kicked off in Olympia this week. While this is a short session (60 days), the legislature will take up some important issues related to education. Here are some of the main ones we’ll be following.
McCleary is a complex education funding case that is more easily understood by looking at its specific parts. During the 2015 legislative session, the state legislature made progress and completed work on some of those parts (e.g. fully funding transportation, materials and supplies and K-3 class-size reductions in low-income schools, with full funding in all schools by 2017-18).
Overall, since 2013, education spending from Olympia has increased 33% (in real dollars that’s a $4.5 billion investment). In fact, Washington increased education spending at a rate faster than all but two states since the Great Recession. This week in his State of the State address, Gov. Jay Inslee praised these efforts, noting that they were “the single largest dollar-amount investment in education Washington state history.”
What’s left in McCleary:
Teacher pay – It’s no surprise that the last big remaining issues are also the most politically challenging (and so they are taking the most time to resolve). One is finding a way for Olympia to pick up the bulk of the principal, teacher and staff pay tab. Over the past 30 years this system has evolved to the point where many local districts use a bigger share of local levies to pay for salaries. The Court says that has to change. The reason that’s politically tricky is because local districts have varying needs, and due to hard-to-explain/inside-baseball political reasons, some districts receive a bigger contribution from the state to pay their teachers, administrators and staff than others. It’s also challenging to figure out how to reduce local tax collections while increasing state ones in a way that is agreeable to everyone.
Levy reform – The other politically complex piece of the McCleary puzzle is levy reform. Because no matter how you look at it, our reliance on property taxes to fund education creates inequities. For example, based on analysis of local levies from the Senate’s budget writer (Sen. Andy Hill) if you live in Aberdeen, your tax rate is triple that of someone in Mercer Island, yet that Aberdeen resident’s taxes raise only half as much per student.
Source: Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) “The Paramount Duty Series”
What we’ll be watching in McCleary – When we spend money in education, we want to make sure our tax dollars are invested in ways that provide the best returns. As one example, as the state increases its share of teacher (and administrator/staff) pay, how about if we re-work pay schedules to attract and retain the best talent in areas we know need strengthening, such as science, math or special education.
Education investments should also target helping our highest-needs students because as The Seattle Times reports, “during the past 12 years, the gap in achievement between poor students and others in Washington has widened more than in any other state.” And while education spending in Washington right now is close to the national median, the legislature, working closely with school districts, needs to ensure we don’t end up paying a lot more only to get the same results.
We’ll also be following these issues:
Assessments/High School Diploma – What it means to earn a high school diploma in the state of Washington arguably is one of the most important policy discussions we can have as a community. We’ll be watching and providing our views to make sure discussions focus on ensuring high school diplomas are meaningful and reflect the standards and skills our kids need to succeed beyond high school.
Teacher Shortages/Hiring – at his State of the State address, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a policy initiative to help attract and retain more teachers, citing a chronic teacher shortage. He proposes an across-the-board $5,000 raise to teacher base pay, and a 1% salary increase for all teachers.
The latest research from the University of Washington suggests teacher shortages are specific to certain subjects and grades (e.g., science, math, special education). How about if we look at ways to pay more – a lot more – to teachers in those areas? Second, by all accounts, Washington doesn’t offer competitive pay to first and second year teachers. Let’s look at targeting pay raises to those teachers first.
Charter schools – during the first week of session, the Senate K-12 education committee heard testimony and then voted out a bipartisan bill that would fix the technical funding glitches identified by the State Supreme Court in the voter-approved charter school law. We’re optimistic this bill will move quickly through the full Senate, and hope that House leadership will take up the bipartisan-sponsored bill in that chamber. The 1100 students in our charter schools, most of whom are from low-income families, deserve options that best meet their needs.
Paraeducators – visit any school in our state and you’re certain to find paraeducators delivering instruction to many of our highest-needs students (e.g., special education, Title I, English-language learners). We’ll be watching and supporting legislation that will provide standards, a career path and better training for these professionals.
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