Calling it a “small, but important first step” toward fixing a statewide teacher shortage, Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday proposed to hike the state’s starting pay for teachers.
OLYMPIA — Calling it a “small, but important first step” toward fixing a statewide teacher shortage, Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday proposed to hike the state’s starting pay for teachers.
The proposal — announced alongside the governor’s 2016 supplemental budget plan — would boost the state’s minimum salary for teachers to $40,000 annually. That would mean a $4,300-per-year raise for beginning teachers over what is budgeted now for the 2016-17 school year, according to budget documents from the governor’s office.
“Almost a third of our schools have reported not being able to have a teacher in at least one of their classrooms,” Inslee said in a news conference.
The governor’s plan would also give all other teachers a 1 percent raise and increase funding for teacher-mentoring programs.
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To pay for the plan, Inslee proposed rolling back four tax preferences, including removing the sales-tax exemption for bottled water and ending a tax preference that benefits oil refineries. Another change would end some exemptions in the real-estate excise tax; a fourth would limit the sales-tax exemption for some people living outside Washington state.
Those changes would raise about $101 million in the next fiscal year, according to budget documents.
The proposal comes just months after lawmakers approved cost-of-living raises for school workers in the approximately $38 billion 2015-17 state operating budget. But those increases weren’t enough to prevent multiple teacher strikes this year, which were partly about pay.
A statewide survey this fall found that principals are struggling to hire qualified teachers and substitutes, especially in areas that are typically difficult to fill such as special education, mathematics and science.
The survey was conducted by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Association of School Principals.
Of the principals who responded, 45 percent said they weren’t able to fill all teacher positions this school year with fully certified teachers who met the job qualifications. And 54 percent said they weren’t able to find enough substitutes on most days.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has said schools will need to hire about 10,000 new K-3 teachers in the three or four years to satisfy the demands of universal full-day kindergarten, smaller K-3 class sizes and to keep up with retirements, attrition and increased student enrollment.
Inslee announced the teacher pay plan along with a proposed 2016 supplemental budget, which is used to make adjustments to the two-year budgets, like the one that passed earlier this year.
Inslee’s supplemental budget would draw $178 million from the state’s reserve funds to pay for the costs of fighting this year’s wildfires, which burned 1 million acres and destroyed more than 300 homes. Also included is more than $12 million to bolster the state’s firefighting capabilities and fire-prevention programs.
But given back-to-back record wildfire seasons, state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said Inslee’s plan doesn’t do enough.
“The state needs to step up to make the needed investments to protect people and property,” Goldmark said Thursday.
The governor also budgeted more than $16 million to pay the $100,000-per-day fines imposed in August by the state Supreme Court. The court is holding the state in contempt for not providing a plan to fund K-12 education per the court’s 2012 McCleary decision.
Among other things, the supplemental-budget proposal would boost funding for the state’s foster-care system and provide more money to hire and retain workers to help improve the state’s stressed mental-health system.
Whether Inslee’s proposals will gain traction in Olympia — where Republicans control the state Senate and Democrats hold a slim majority in the House — is another question.
In budget talks earlier this year, Democratic lawmakers and Inslee unsuccessfully targeted at least two of the tax preferences the governor proposed to limit Thursday — the ones concerning bottle water and the oil refineries.
Sen. Andy Hill, of Redmond, the chief GOP budget writer, criticized the governor’s tax-exemption proposal to pay for teacher-salary increases, saying, “Taxes should be the absolute last resort.”
While he acknowledged the teacher shortage is a problem, Hill said lawmakers first should address the teacher-pay issues called for in the McCleary decision. The Supreme Court has said teachers salaries are part of basic education and should be paid by the state. Currently, most school districts use local levies to supplement what the state provides for teachers.
Hill also questioned whether so much spending was needed in the governor’s supplemental budget.
Bill Bryant, a Republican challenging Inslee in next year’s gubernatorial election, also criticized Inslee’s new spending and call to eliminate the tax preferences.
“Some of those expenditures are necessary,” Bryant said in a news conference at the Capitol. “But I would reprioritize the budget that we passed only six months ago, the largest budget in state history.”
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, called Inslee’s budget proposal “a good starting point for discussion.”
“While some legislators may have other ideas on how we reach these goals, his priorities are on target,” Sullivan said in prepared remarks.