New education study confirms Washington teacher salaries are decent, as long as local levy dollars are included.

Share story

ANOTHER piece of Washington’s education-funding puzzle has fallen into place, as lawmakers make the last push to meet the Supreme Court’s demand to fully fund basic education.

The legislative committee trying to reform public-school funding now has data to confirm that Washington teachers are paid, on average, comparably to other professionals with similar requirements. However, starting pay for teachers is still woefully inadequate.

The report from a consultant hired by the Joint Education Funding Task Force includes local levy dollars in its assessment of how much teachers are paid. So the state’s overreliance on local tax dollars still must be fixed.

At least lawmakers have a dollar amount to reach for — nearly $3 billion a biennium — as they design a new regional pay structure for teachers.

Lawmakers are running out of reasons to delay answering the Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision, except for the biggest excuse of all: There is no consensus yet on whether to raise taxes — and by how much — to put more money into the education budget. Lawmakers must take themselves over that hurdle, for the sake of ensuring all students, no matter where they live, have access to high-quality education.

The state budget for K-12 public school employee pay was $3.6 billion for the 2014-15 school year. But districts added $1.4 billion to that number from local tax money. Third Sector Intelligence consultants found nearly every Washington school district pays teachers in a slightly different way.

The economic researchers found the average teacher pay in Washington state — $66,000 for 10 months of work or the equivalent of $79,000 for an annual salary — is comparable to how much occupational and physical therapists, technical writers, insurance underwriters, architects, accountants and other jobs with similar skill requirements are paid.

They also found classroom teachers in Washington earn slightly more than the national average teacher salary. This makes sense, since the study also found many occupations in Washington pay slightly more than the national average in their fields.

The study found Washington school principals, who have an average salary of $110,000, are paid well above the national average in their field. But they fall in the middle of compensation for similar management jobs in Washington state, including human-resource managers, and managers in industrial and health-care fields.

One of the challenges before the Legislature, as lawmakers work to make the education-funding system more equitable across the state, is designing a regional pay system that takes into consideration regional costs of living and regional pay expectations.

The report to the Education Funding Task Force contains all the details needed to set up that system, as the researchers found the existing regional differences in pay have a relationship with local needs.

This week, the governor proposed a $4 billion tax increase, with most of it going to pay for higher teacher and administrator salaries and replacing local levy dollars. Many other leaders believe a combination of some new taxes and budget adjustments will accomplish the same goal.

Whatever the approach, the target is clear. Now lawmakers need to work together for the benefit of Washington’s children.