Education Financing Update

For the entire 6 years I’ve been in the legislature I’ve worked on school funding. I’ve tried to improve the amount and the efficacy of use of the money. This year a bipartisan group of six legislators introduced a package of reforms coming from the Basic Education Financing Task Force report. I’ve written about it in this blog before ( and will in the future.

We’re in the middle of a tumultuous period in the evolution of the bills. Our original bills (HB 1410 and SB 5444) were a 110 page first draft that we expected to engender a robust discussion. We were right about part of it – the discussion was robust, but unfortunately not substantive. The Olympia-based education groups have been very negative on the proposal, with most outside groups supportive. The legislation changes distribution of billions of dollars, and we were probably naive to expect change of this magnitude to go smoothly.

We’ve taken a new approach – we’re starting with a blank slate instead of a large first draft. We’ve introduced two bills with similar titles but no real content. The new bills are HB 2261 and SB 6048.  We will move these bills through the system while we work on re-crafting a comprehensive bill. This is the strategy we used successfully in fixing the math standards last year.

Behind the scenes the House and Senate are working daily on trying to build consensus around the big pieces of the package. We’ll recapitulate the process we used to build the original legislation with the six of us in a room, but with many more people involved. I expect this to be painful, but it’s a necessary step. Pat, Skip, Rodney, Fred, Glenn and I spent hundreds of hours learning and working with the alternatives. We’ll try to lead everyone through the same process, but in less time.

This will be a circuitous process. We need your input as we move forward. Thanks for staying engaged.

Open Letter to Teachers about HB 1410

I’ve had a lot of questions from teachers on HB 1410 that seem to indicate some misunderstanding of our intent and I believe a misreading of the bill. 1410 is a serious attempt to address school funding inadequacies and the structural problems that have built up over 30 years since the last major revision.  The worst structural problem affecting teachers is the legislature’s inability to give raises to teachers without bankrupting school districts. This occurs due to the interaction between TRI pay and the number of teachers local districts have to hire to meet even a weak definition of “basic education.”  This is crazy, and not in the interest of anyone in the system, most particularly teachers.

Our seminal observation about the current system is that it’s resulted in a pretty serious decline in the relative competitiveness of teacher salaries over the last few decades. The stat I use with some frequency is that the SAT scores of students entering teaching programs at universities have declined 75 points over the last 25-30 years. The number is national, not specific to Washington, but is an indicator that we’re losing our attractiveness to the top students. This is a recipe for failure of the system, as we totally depend on teacher quality for any results. The first thing we MUST do is start with competitive teacher salaries. Our proposal includes a comparable wage survey of the labor markets in Washington, comparing teacher salaries to jobs that have similar educational and talent requirements.

Continue reading “Open Letter to Teachers about HB 1410”