A bill that might have given Washington school districts some flexibility about how much money they can raise locally imploded following a series of late-night votes Tuesday.
The powerful state teachers union responded swiftly, and with ire. And now, the fate of the original proposal remains unclear as lawmakers work against the clock to reach a final budget agreement before the end of the month.
“The amended version of (the bill) … is not going to advance,” state Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby said late Thursday.
He’s one of two Democrats who, well after midnight Wednesday, joined with Republicans on the Senate Ways & Means committee to support two controversial amendments that angered teachers and likely doomed Senate Bill 5313. That legislation would allow districts to raise their local property-tax levies, but the amendments would have funneled more money to charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately run — and set new teacher pay restrictions.
The latter move — although an attempt to avoid resurrecting the decade-long McCleary school finance case — drew immediate criticism from the Washington Education Association, which represents teachers.
“For the first time in years, our folks began to earn professional competitive wages,” union spokeswoman Linda Mullen said of recent teacher pay raises. “This takes that effort backward.”
In 2017, a bipartisan group of lawmakers voted to cut local property-tax levies in order to offset a statewide tax hike to boost spending on public schools. But districts have warned the cut went too far, and as of late 2018, 85 percent of districts expect to face a budget shortfall.
Still, some lawmakers have blamed financial stress on the double-digit pay raises that districts negotiated with their teachers unions last summer.
“That’s how we ended up in the mess we’re in,” said state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, also a member of the Senate budget committee.
His amendment to the levy bill would restrict how much extra money teachers can collect above their base salaries.
Also known as TRI pay — for extra time, responsibility and incentive — supplemental contracts typically tap local levies to pay teachers for extra work like serving as department heads or tutoring. But historically, as lawmakers shirked their responsibility to increase state funding for teacher salaries, districts relied increasingly on their local levies and TRI pay to offer a competitive wage.
Many stopped requiring teachers to complete any extra work altogether and automatically rolled the TRI pay into their paychecks.
The reliance on local levies to fund a state responsibility prompted the Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case, which ended last year after lawmakers added billions of dollars to the K-12 budget. But many Republicans, and some Democrats, worry that lifting the local levies without restricting TRI pay will spark what Mullet called “a McCleary 2.0.”