State lawmakers tackle teacher pay reform; new plan would level playing field

OLYMPIA -- A new plan in the Legislature would dramatically change teacher pay in our state.

Right now, educators in some districts make a lot more than those in other districts, even though they perform the same job.

“We’ve got situations where the average teacher in Federal Way is paid $10,000 less than the average teacher in Auburn right next door,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup.  “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The new proposal would help level the playing field, and is a clear response to the state Supreme Court.  Justices, in their landmark McCleary v.  State of Washington decision, cited pay disparity as a big factor in why students in some part of the state receive a better education.

“We want to make it a rational system that works across the state of Washington,” said Dammeier.

Over the years, as the state underfunded schools, districts filled the gap with voter-approved local levies.  For some districts, those account for  over a third of the budget.

The problem is that richer districts can raise more money from voters than poorer districts.  That leads to higher pay for those teachers, and presumably better schools for those students.

Lawmakers, responding to the Supreme Court, are trying hard to change that.

Here’s a look at the teacher pay disparity that is caused in part by different local levies:

Average Teacher Pay in Selected Districts

    The court is demanding that these disparities be reduced and that the state stop relying on local levies for teacher pay.  Levies need to be reserved for what they were originally intended:  extras, not essentials.

    Lawmakers are divided on how to pay for this proposal, which could reach $3.5 billion.  Some support “swapping” higher state property taxes for lower local property tax levies.  Others, mostly Democrats, prefer implementing a capital gains tax.

    The complex issue is not likely to be decided before the current special session adjourns at the end of the month.