Monday’s editorial outlined how, over the decades, individual school districts have stepped up to pay a greater share of teacher and other school employee pay, and how that will have to end under the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision’s mandate that the state fully fund basic education.
Local levies have become the default method for districts to pay teachers and other employees above the shrinking share the state has provided, but that has, depending on voter support and local economies, resulted in an imbalance among districts in the quality of education they are able to provide.
The solution required by the Supreme Court and by lawmaker’s own legislation, is for the state to fully fund education as its “paramount duty.” That will require the state to provide the funding for a far greater share of teacher pay, a commitment that will require more revenue.
“There’s nothing more basic to basic education than teacher compensation,” said Dan Steele, associate executive director with the Washington Association of School Administrators.
The school administrators group, in lobbying legislators and others, is making its case that the state must find a new source of revenue, a tax increase or new tax, to fulfill that duty to education. While the economy is improving, it won’t create enough revenue to meet the need. The Legislature’s options for budget cuts are limited and those in education don’t want to force cuts elsewhere, particularly where such cuts would effect the children they are teaching. And moving money around among school districts isn’t enough.
There are good reasons to reform the levy system, but a “levy swap” or levy equalization that would only redistribute funds from more fortunate districts to poorer districts won’t be adequate to address the funding needed for school employee compensation, Steele said.
The school administrators, beyond calling for more revenue, are leaving the tax policy debate to legislators.
The state’s solution when raising taxes has been to allow municipalities and other districts to increase the sales tax, a practice that has left Washington state with the most regressive tax system in the nation, according to Forbes.com and others.
A better option, though not the only one, would be to give another look to Gov. Jay Inslee’s earlier proposal in his budget for a capital gains tax. As proposed, the capital gains tax would collect a 7 percent tax on earnings on the sale of stocks and bonds above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for joint filers. Homes, farms and retirement accounts would be exempt from the tax.
Yesterday, we talked of the need for compromise. In securing Republican support for a tax increase, Democrats and the state’s teachers unions should also now consider giving the state a larger role in collective bargaining. Currently, teacher contracts are negotiated by the unions’ local units. As the state takes on the financial responsibility for paying teachers and other employees, it follows that it should be involved in the negotiations.
There will remain a need for local bargaining, specifically for the supplemental roles teachers often take on for coaching, advising student groups and serving as department chairmen and chairwomen but also for issues not involving compensation.
With all that the Legislature has in front of it, Steele said he doesn’t see the opportunity for the collective bargaining issue to be addressed this session. A pledge to continue the work would help.
The more immediate need for the state is to ensure that education has the funding that the constitution and the state’s residents demand.