Washington State House Democrats


McCleary Phase II

My colleague, Rep. Ross Hunter, has an excellent summary of the challenges facing the state in the coming months regarding teacher compensation and local levy reform. This will be the Legislature’s top priority in the 2016 legislative session. I encourage you to take a moment to read and share his post.

– Gael

McCleary Phase II

Rep. Ross Hunter

The Legislature has made significant progress toward fully funding basic education. In the last three years, we’ve reduced K-3 class sizes, funded all-day kindergarten, and provided kids adequate materials and supplies for their classrooms. But there’s one critical and final component we must deal with – teacher compensation and local levies. The chart below should start to explain the problem.

Average Salaries for TeachersThis chart shows how teacher salaries have been constructed since 1996. The gray portion at the top is the part provided by local levies, not by the state.

Teacher salaries aren’t the only cost. School districts also pay classified staff and administrators, and the split between state and local funding is even greater for these categories than it is for teachers.

There are lots of reasons for this. Some make sense given how the system works and some are the result of the legislature skipping cost of living (COLA) increases during the recent recession. When the Legislature doesn’t fund COLAs, but the local district wants to fund them (in order to actually be able to hire competent teachers) they use money raised in local levies to do so. If it was just extra, above and beyond what is needed to actually be able to hire, this would be expensive, but not a constitutional problem. However, every study that we’ve done shows that they’re paying just about what the market needs them to pay to be able to hire and retain competent employees. The court ruled this unconstitutional because it’s the State’s responsibility to adequately fund basic education, and we’re shirking that duty by foisting part of the cost on local districts.

How Big Is the Problem?

Compensation by School DistrictTo figure out the gray area in the above chart you have to figure out which teachers are doing “basic education” and which are providing “extras.” For example, the basic ed model (adopted in HB 2261 and HB 2276 in 2009 and 2010) assumes a six period day. The Bellevue School District has seven, providing more options to students. This requires more teachers. Then you need to know how much of their time is spent on basic education. Many teachers do extra stuff, like coaching or advising a club.

Most estimates of the problem assume that 90% of actual average statewide district compensation payments to employees that are part of the basic education staffing model go towards the State’s definition of “basic education.” The remainder is a local enhancement. This produces about a $3.5 billion total biennial cost that should be borne by the State. The details of this are mind-numbing, but the conclusion is pretty broadly accepted.

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