Wondering what big changes you can expect in Washington schools? We dug through the state’s new education budget so you don’t have to.

Share story

One week ago, after a long and contentious gestation period, lawmakers in Olympia finally birthed their plan to fully fund K-12 education. Over the next four years, $7.3 billion will be allocated to basic education in Washington’s public schools.

This is no ordinary education budget. It’s arguably the most anticipated and fought-over piece of education policy in recent state history. Week after week, through three special sessions, eight lawmakers argued in secret over how to pay districts for teacher and school-worker salaries, and effectively satisfy a 2012 state Supreme Court order to fully fund education.

In the end, the public (and the press) had about 36 hours to digest the education portion of the state’s operating budget before it was passed by the Legislature.

Over the last week, we talked to education advocates and school districts and thumbed through legislative documents to find out where and when taxpayers and educators could expect things to change.

1. The basics. If you’ve been keeping up with our coverage of the budget, you can probably skip over this section.

What are the biggest changes coming out of this budget?

The budget plan will shift the burden of covering teacher-salary costs to the state to comply with McCleary v. Washington. Lawmakers plan to do this by instituting a state property-tax hike in property-rich school districts like Seattle, where taxpayers could see a $400 uptick. The plan also caps the amount of money that can be collected by local taxes.

Other changes include:

• Scrapping something called the “staff-mix ratio,” a school funding formula that allocates money to schools based on teacher expertise and education level. Some have argued the formula disproportionately favors richer districts.
• A three-tier regional difference in how much the state provides for school employees, starting in the 2018-19 school year, based on housing costs.
• Beginning teachers would make at least $40,000. The maximum would be $90,000, although districts could pay more in areas with higher housing costs and for educators who teach science, technology, engineering and math or provide bilingual and special-education instruction.
• Increases to the amount of money provided for students who are below grade level, or are eligible for special-education or highly capable programs.
• Control of health benefits for all school employees would be moved from individual districts to the state.

When can we expect the changes to kick in?

Very little will happen in the next academic year, except for cost-of-living adjustments to teacher salaries. Most things will start to trickle in during the 2018-2019 school year.

2. The follow-ups

Is this sufficient in satisfying McCleary as the court would define “satisfying”? Also why were carbon-tax and capital-gains taxes dropped from the revenue plan? (Question submitted by Kali Sakai)

That’s the big question. We won’t know for sure until the court speaks. Lawmakers have 30 days to submit a report to the court, so the justices won’t say anything for at least a month.

On the capital-gains tax, Gov. Jay Inslee took that proposal off the negotiating table in May, hoping to spur budget talks between the two parties. Lawmakers have described the 2017-19 budget as a compromise between Democratic spending values with Republican taxing values, so that may explain why a carbon-tax proposal didn’t make it into the final agreement.

What effect will the new state-salary allocation have on local bargaining efforts? Is this a win for low-income school districts? (Question submitted by Ryan Baker)

Starting in 2018-19, the state will give school districts more money for teacher salaries, but just how much each teacher makes will be subject to collective bargaining. Districts also cannot pay new teachers less than $40,000 and automatically must raise their salary by at least 10 percent after five years of experience. No teacher can earn more than $90,000, unless they teach science, technology, engineering or mathematics, or work in bilingual or special education positions.

Low-income districts for the first time will have access to a $500 million fund for schools that have a high concentration of students living in poverty. The state also no longer will give districts more money for more experienced teachers or for teachers with higher education. This tended to work to the disadvantage of many low-income districts if they had newer and/or younger teachers.

Required reading.

Can teachers unions bargain above a $90k salary cap? (Question submitted by Noah Wallace)

No. The Legislature will not allow any district to pay teachers above $90,000, unless they work in a hard-to-staff position. That includes teaching in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects and in special education and bilingual programs. Districts can pay those teachers up to 10 percent above the $90,000 maximum. Districts also can offer a higher salary depending on housing costs in the area.

Will teachers making more than $90,000 take a pay cut now that the Legislature has taken away levy funds? (Question submitted via Twitter by @TrumpingTheShrub)

Who knows. No one has provided us with a firm answer to this question yet. There’s also confusion about whether districts can pay teachers a higher salary using local funding. The restriction applies to basic-education contracts, which the state must cover, but teachers may be able to make more than $90,000 total through supplemental (or TRI — time, responsibility and incentive) pay. Districts also may exceed the salary cap for specific hard-to-staff positions, and the maximum rate is adjusted by inflation and a new regionalization adjustment for residential-property values.

How will local levies be affected in layman’s terms? (Question submitted by Jason Smith)

Local levies for education are capped, starting in 2019, at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, or $2,500 per student, whichever is lower.

Will the class-size reductions for K-3 be funded this upcoming school year? (Question submitted by Jason Smith)

No. Lawmakers amended the final McCleary deal to delay from 2017 to 2018 the requirement for smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. Many school districts worried the earlier deadline would have hurt their budgets and hiring efforts for the 2017-18 school year since much of the new state spending for school staff salaries doesn’t arrive in district coffers until 2018-19.

Didn’t see your question addressed? Put yours in the comments or email dbazzaz@seattletimes.com and we’ll try to get you an answer.