Since the Washington legislative session kicked off earlier this year, Democrats have called on their Republican counterparts in the Senate to offer a detailed proposal to fix the state’s school funding crisis.
On Friday, Republicans unveiled their plan.
It includes ending the state’s reliance on local school levies by carving out a guaranteed per-pupil rate districts would receive. The move would bring in $2 billion a year for schools and ensure each district has a minimum of $12,500 per student.
“This is a very different direction than has been presented in the past. We’ve been working on it since last May, so it is well thought out,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who has been a key player in the process. “It does not represent a ‘kick the can down the road’ approach, but rather something that will ensure that we don’t run over the same old ground again.”
Lawmakers are working this session to satisfy a 2012 court case known as the McCleary decision that found the Legislature was violating its constitutional duty by not adequately funding the state’s public schools. Legislators have steadily been working toward funneling more money to public schools. The remaining hurdle is to figure out how to end a reliance on local levies and adequately pay teachers.
“It’s a leveling of the field, a fair, clean way to do what we had to do to fix this problem, which is reform the levy system, but also make sure we recognize that different areas (of Washington) have different abilities to fund education,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, a key budget writer.
Legislative Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee released proposals earlier in the session.
Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, called the Republican plan a “positive step in the right direction,” adding that she’s pleased they “finally put forward a proposal.”
“I am concerned, three weeks into the legislative session, that the plan put forward today, while a framework, does lack specificity,” Cleveland said. “We have held our students, teachers, and schools hostage long enough waiting for this problem to be solved.”
Cleveland said she’s eager to begin negotiations and hopeful she will see more financial details and specifics from her Republican counterparts.
“But again, this is a good start,” Cleveland said.
The plan increases the minimum teacher salary for instructional staff to $45,000 from $35,700 and creates a $10,000 housing allowance for teachers living in expensive areas. It would prohibit teachers from striking.
In addition to revenue from the changes to the levy system, the state would allocate $700 million a year to ensure the minimum per-pupil funding is met. The plan would also allow teachers to be judged based on performance, and remove the state’s salary grid. The Senate Republican proposal is subject to voter approval.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said the plan addresses the inequities across the state.
“No longer will a good education be determined by ZIP code,” Wilson said.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, a former teacher, was skeptical.
“In my experience with the Senate Republicans, their budgets are filled with gimmicks and funding swaps that I don’t agree with,” Stonier said. “So I suspect when we see more details, we’ll see a plan that includes account swaps, which are problematic and not a very equitable plan for students and probably not very teacher-friendly approach to educating our kids.”
Stonier pointed out that Senate Republicans didn’t appear to collaborate with House Republicans.
If they had, Stonier said, it “would have been much more reflective of the education policy and budget thinking in Olympia. This is from one caucus, so I think that’s interesting to note.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.