Washington school districts on average use local property taxes to pay each teacher nearly $14,000 over and above what the state provides for salaries, a new report has found. That becomes part of the decision-making on how to meet the state Supreme Court’s school-funding order.
OLYMPIA — Washington school districts on average use local property taxes to pay each teacher nearly $14,000 over and above what the state provides for salaries, a new report has found.
The report was designed to provide crucial pieces of data that state lawmakers need to comply with the state Supreme Court’s 2012 education-funding order known as the McCleary decision.
Now, the state’s Education Funding Task Force is expected to take that data and craft recommendations for a school funding plan before the legislative session beginning in January.
“This report gives us the data we need to answer the questions,” state Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said Tuesday after the task force got a presentation on the report.
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Legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee have said they need the 148-page reportto figure out how to comply with the McCleary decision, which said the state must cover the costs of providing a basic education for Washington students.
Lawmakers and Inslee must now determine how much local spending by school districts should be considered basic education — and figure out how the state will pay for those costs.
Lawmakers already have increased funding for a full day of kindergarten, to lower class sizes, and to cover the costs of supplies and operating expenses like heat. The biggest piece remaining is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries.
It’s a tricky problem: School districts currently pay a substantial chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies.
The average K-12 teachers’ base salary provided by the state is $52,308, according to the report. On top of that, the report said, local school districts use property-tax levies to pay teachers on average an additional $13,846.
Washington state teachers earn slightly more than the average nationwide teacher salary, according to the report.
Administrative staff is another area where school districts spend local dollars to supplement state pay.
Districts on average spend $50,449 in local tax dollars for school principals and similar administrators, according to the report. That comes after the state on average provides a salary of about $60,000 for those positions.
Districts also use local tax dollars to supplement pay for classified staff, which includes teaching assistants, custodians and other school positions. Teaching assistants get an average $5,844 in local tax dollars to supplement an average state salary of $32,340, according to the report.
In public comments after the presentation to the task force, a representative for the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, criticized the report.
Among other things, the report doesn’t address the need for better pay for new educators to address a teacher shortage, said Julie Salvi, a lobbyist for the association.
“We are feeling that this report misses the mark on the significant issue of teacher recruitment and retention,” she said.
Lawmakers in recent years have poured more than $2.3 billion into K-12 education specifically to address the McCleary decision. But that hasn’t satisfied the court, which in 2014 found the state in contempt for not making enough progress toward a full funding plan.
In 2015, the justices raised the stakes by slapping the state with a $100,000-per-day contempt fine. The court last month decided to keep those fines in place.
One big question for the task force is deciding what specific types of additional educator pay, provided by local districts, count as part of basic education, according to Billig and another task-force member, Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah.
Basic education costs are considered the state’s responsibility, so that will determine how much the state will ultimately have to boost its share of education spending.
Magendanz said that once lawmakers get some information about the cost of educator benefits, they’ll be able to arrive at the amount the state will need to pay.
Previous estimates have pegged the state cost for adequately funding teacher salaries at $3.5 billion for every two-year budget cycle.
The struggle won’t end with the number. Once they know the cost, lawmakers and Inslee will then need to figure out where to get the tax revenue to pay for it.