Governor proposes pay raise for beginning teachers in State of the State address. Overflow crowd packs Senate hearing on Charter Schools

By FRANZ GREGORY  | 
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Jan 13, 2016

Lawmakers convened in a joint session on Tuesday to hear Governor Inslee’s 4th State of the State address, in which he urged the Legislature to focus on increasing spending on basic education, mental-health services and fighting wildfires. As a priority, he proposed to raise the state’s minimum annual salary for beginning teachers by $4,300 a year over what is already budgeted for the 2016-17 school year to help fix a statewide teacher shortage. Currently, average teacher pay in Washington is $66,000, plus benefits, for a ten-month work year. The governor acknowledged that this year’s short, 60-day session will likely not produce a full plan to meet court-ordered requirements for K-12 education funding. Instead, he promised first steps toward a funding plan this year and to finish the task in 2017. The state supreme court’s McCleary decision requires a plan to be completed by 2018, and though the legislature has increased education funding by some $ 2.0 billion, the court says that is not enough, imposing for the first time a $100,000 per-day fine on lawmakers. A bi-partisan legislative work group released a plan Friday as a framework to fix what the supreme court says is an over reliance on local levies. House Bill 2366 and Senate Bill 6195 would direct lawmakers to gather school district data on how levy funds are used; commit to eliminating school district dependency on local levies by the end of 2017; collect and analyze school staff compensation data, and establish another task force to continue the working on the plan. Tuesday afternoon, in a packed hearing that overflowed to additional hearing rooms, the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee took up proposals to restore funding for Washington’s charter schools, which were approved by voters in 2012. The supreme court ruled their funding unconstitutional last summer, putting nine charter schools and some 1,200 students at risk. There are currently two proposals to restore charter school funding. Senate Bill 6163 would give local school boards the authority to allow charter schools within their districts and declare them “common schools.” This means they could legally receive state education funding. While it is a workable approach, the bill would really only preserve two charter schools, because they are already part of the Spokane School District. Senate Bill 6194, sponsored by Senator Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island), would fund all charter schools from the Washington Opportunity Pathways account, which receives the profits from the State Lottery. This bill, and its companion measure, House Bill 2367, would allow charter schools to continue to operate independently, as originally intended. Senator Litzow said: “Public charter schools provide a meaningful opportunity for students – especially minority children from low-income families – who are disproportionately failed by Washington’s inequitable public school system.” Many of the parents and children at Tuesday’s packed hearing echoed this statement, expressing their real-life experiences in traditional public schools that ranged from ineffective teachers to outright racism. Follow these and other crucial issues during this session on www.washingtonvotes.org and visit us on Facebook and Twitter #waleg.