OLYMPIA — Testifiers praised bipartisan work, but “disappointment” and “frustration” frequented their statements at the first hearings for Senate and House bills that address teacher compensation in the 2016 State Legislative Session.
Teacher compensation is a part of basic education, which must be fully funded by 2018 under the Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. The court determined local tax levies have paid teacher salaries, which the justices found to be unconstitutional. Since August, the court has held the state in contempt for not producing plans to fully fund basic education from a reliable resource. That order carries a $100,000 per day penalty until the court’s mandate is fulfilled.
“The apple gets bigger and the bite you’re going to take next year is going to be bigger than, probably, if you would have done it a year ago.” said Alan Burke, executive director of the Washington State School Directors Association, during testimony. “The politics are very difficult, but the reality is it’s going to be incredibly challenging to try to take care of the entire levy-compensation issue in one year.”
The bills, HB 2366 and SB 6195, establish a task force and provide $500,000 toward consultations to create recommendations for funding teacher pay. The bills also require the Legislature to take action to eliminate dependency on local school levies by the end of the 2017 legislative session.
A bipartisan work group organized by Gov. Jay Inslee in September created the bills. Members of the work group said they believe they produced bills in good faith from compromise on both sides of the aisle. Members of the work group said they could not determine the amount of teacher compensation paid through levy funds, so they could not determine how much the state needed to increase its share of teacher pay. The task force intends to complete this work.
“The (Senate) bill represents kind of a foundation for what we all could agree on,” Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge, said during the Senate committee public hearing last week. “It keeps members at the table and keeps the Legislature moving forward.”
Similar testimony occurred at the House Appropriations and Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education committees. The House Appropriations Committee moved its bill forward the day following its public hearing.
Several people providing testimony indicated support for the bipartisan work to fix teacher compensation, but many thought that the bill did not go far enough, even lacking a sense of urgency.
“We had hoped for more” said Shawn Lewis, director of governmental relationships and public policy analysis at the Spokane Public School District. “We had hoped for a solid plan for funding to allow for our board and our administration to create a solid plan for the 2017-18 school year.”
Some speakers critical of the bills noted similarities between the goals of the task force proposal and previously created work groups, councils and task forces that had earlier produced recommendations to create quality education within the state.
“The Legislature has to resist the temptation to request data in greater levels of granularity. If you get that data, what’s it going to answer for you that it’s not going to answer for you now?” said Ben Rarick, executive director of the State Board of Education. “We get this chance once in a generation, maybe not even that, and so we appreciate the bipartisan efforts, but bolder action is needed.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said, “I don’t think anything will really, actually be done unless you push, and I don’t think this does anything more” to reach a solution.
Others testifying encouraged committee members to include education-business professionals when creating the recommendations.
Business groups Washington Roundtable, and Association of Washington Business supported the bill because they say current students would be future employees.
(Izumi Hansen is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau. This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Contact reporter Izumi Hansen at hansen firstname.lastname@example.org.)