OLYMPIA — As lawmakers debate how to put up to $1 billion more into public schools, Republicans in the Senate want to make sure that money doesn’t support pay raises for teachers.
Democrats in the House oppose the bill, which has already been approved by the Senate, The Daily Herald reported in Sunday’s newspaper.
The measure, Senate Bill 5946, would push most new education dollars toward teacher training and hiring new teachers to improve the reading skills and academic performance of students. One part of the bill would prevent school districts from giving raises greater than the rate of inflation for the next two years.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Steve Litzow says the goal is to make progress.
“Everybody expects by putting a billion dollars more into education, you’ll get results,” said the Republican from Mercer Island. “We’re going to be watching very carefully.”
The Senate bill had been called one of the last stumbling blocks in reaching agreement on a new budget in time to avert a partial shutdown of government July 1.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said the bill could not pass “the way it came over from the Senate” but didn’t specify how his majority caucus will respond.
The Senate approved SB 5946 on a 26-22 vote on June 13. As of Friday, the House had not scheduled a vote.
Washington lawmakers are in their second special session in search of a deal on a new budget for the two-year cycle, which begins July 1.
The House, which is controlled by Democrats, and the Senate, which is run by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, are trying to agree on how to erase a nearly billion-dollar shortfall while complying with a Supreme Court order to pump significant new sums of money into public schools.
Both chambers adopted budgets that suspend cost-of-living pay hikes for teachers as required under Initiative 732, a move that saves $300 million. This would be the fourth consecutive year lawmakers have balked at providing that money.
But budgets adopted in each chamber do provide in the neighborhood of $1 billion for other basic education services and programs now paid for by school districts with local levy dollars.
The largest chunks of money in each budget are for bus transportation and materials, supplies and operating costs.
Every state dollar that comes in for those areas will free up a dollar for school districts to spend elsewhere, and Republicans are concerned teacher unions will make a grab for it.
“What we’re trying to figure out is what the locals are going to do with it,” Litzow said. “We want to make sure the money goes in and actually makes a difference.”
The leader of the state’s largest union of public school teachers said the bill is a case of micro-managing by leaders of the Majority Coalition Caucus.
Mary Lindquist, president of the 82,000-member Washington Education Association, said teachers, administrators, parents and school board members will decide where the freed-up local dollars can be best spent.
“These are local decisions that every district in every community will have to make,” she said.