While the final days of this legislative session are nearing, yesterday leaders from both the House and Senate proposed three plans to reform the ways schools in our state are financed and end an over-reliance on local levies. These plans are in addition to a plan put forward by State Superintendent Randy Dorn earlier this week. Currently, local levy funding is used to pay for basic education costs, including teacher salaries and school supplies; costs that the State Constitution requires be covered by the State. This is major step forward on one of most vexing challenges confronting the state legislature.
We know that teachers make the biggest school-based difference in a child’s education. Effective school leadership plays a significant role in the academic results of students building-wide. Strategic investments in K–12 teacher compensation and professional learning are necessary to close gaps and improve outcomes for all kids. By ensuring the state is fulfilling its responsibility, we will ensure these critical elements are in place to benefit our children.
In the past few days, multiple proposals have been introduced. The proposal from Senator Bruce Dammeier is the most comprehensive in its recommended system reforms. It limits local levy funding for expenses that are not “basic,” meaning that teacher salaries would be covered by the state. This will make teacher salary increases more uniform statewide, facilitating more equitable compensation for teachers from district to district and freeing up local levy funding for supplemental program costs, as originally intended.
In addition, for the first time, healthcare for all K–12 employees would also be covered by the state. The proposal saves the state money and increases quality of coverage for thousands of employees. It will reduce out-of-pocket costs for most K–12 employees, especially those with families.
The proposal also includes increases to starting teacher salaries. In Washington, starting base pay for beginning teachers is $34,048. Changes to our state’s compensation system are necessary to attract, retain, and reward quality teaching. Our current system pays too little for starting teachers, is results-blind, and is too focused on time served and degrees earned rather than the difficulty of the job, student growth, and career ladders.
To finance the reforms in his proposal, Senator Dammeier includes a property tax reform concept as a first step. The proposal also includes regional adjustments to ensure that communities with the lowest assessed properties would receive additional resources. The financing plan would be phased in over a two-year period, during the 2017–19 biennium, giving school districts time to prepare. We are still analyzing if the proposal completely funds the plan or if additional resources might be needed to make it work.
The League of Education Voters thanks our leaders in Olympia for their ongoing hard work, refusal to accept the status quo, and commitment to ensuring a high-quality public education for each Washington student, from cradle to career. We will continue to work them to create an ample, equitable, and stable funding system for our schools.