Senate bill asking for $770M for paraeducators, some say it's focused on the wrong thing

One bill clearing the Senate in Olympia is pushing for $770 million more over the next three years, primarily to hire more paraeducators and boost their pay. 

The assistants are not certified teachers, but the main sponsor of the bill, Sen. Derek Stanford, says paraeducators play an important role in the classrooms.

"Paraeducators have a particularly important role as we try to respond to pandemic learning loss and other barriers that we face because they help provide one-on-one and small group interactions that help tailor educational experiences," Senator Derek Stanford said.

The Washington Policy Center says of the 125,000 full-time employees in our public schools, about 50% are certified teachers. They believe that ratio is already low enough.

"We should be adding trained skilled educators who can evaluate where the holes are in the learning of the children and help them catch up. Paraeducators simply do not have the training or the skills they need to do this important job," Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center said.

Finne also says the measure will cut the ratio of teachers by increasing the number of non-teaching employees.

"If taken absolutely out of context alone, this would increase funding for paraeducators, so you could say that, but I think that sort of devotion to a ratio number is different than really looking at what’s happening in the classroom in a concrete way and seeing the impact paraeducators can have in the classrooms," Stanford said.

Stanford says school districts are asking for more paraeducators.

A lot of teachers are burdened with large class sizes and paraeducators are there for support.

"Obviously, when you are with children having more adults, more hands on deck helps. Yes, of course, but we don’t need this sort of vague indeterminate help," Finne said.

Finne says more paraeducators will not solve the academic fallout in the state.  

If approved, she says it will boil down to the money being spent leading to the ratio of teachers going down.

Around 61% of public high school students are not meeting math standards and 49% are not meeting English standards.

Finne believes the state needs to focus more on certified teachers and other strategies to turn things around.

SB 5882 is now heading to the House Committee on Appropriations. It has a hearing this Thursday.