- Edmund Burke
To his credit, Governor Inslee got the ball rolling with a substantial and thoughtful budget proposal. In that budget, Inslee has made significant progress in addressing all four priorities in WASA’s Legislative Platform : 1) Comply with the Paramount Duty, 2) Expand Available State Resources, 3) Ensure Competitive Public School Employee Compensation, and 4) Enhance School Construction Assistance. This appears to be the first time in recent history that any governor has submitted a budget that went so far toward addressing all of WASA’s legislative priorities. If adopted, his revenue proposals would also help spread Washington’s tax burden more equitably across the economic continuum of our citizens.
Now it will be up to legislative leaders in the House and Senate to create their own budgets and engage in the difficult process of political compromise. Such compromise will be necessary to adopt a budget and the supporting legislation needed to bring our public schools into constitutional compliance. Unfortunately, both political parties enter that work with ideological blinders that limit their ability to address the deficiencies of our current system.
For the Democrats, the blinders relate to any limitation on collective bargaining rights and in this case, the rights of public school employees. They seem particularly sympathetic to labor’s perspective in that regard. The Washington Education Association’s position is clearly stated in their 2017 Bill of Rights for Washington Public School Students:
All students have a right to be taught by caring, committed and qualified teachers and education support professionals. This requires fully funding competitive, professional base pay and benefits to attract and keep high-quality K-12 school employees, and maintain flexibility for school districts to supplement educators’ pay beyond the base state salary to meet local needs. (underlining added)
While WASA strongly supports local flexibility, allowing local salary supplements to continue without any restriction certainly won’t address current inequities, and will likely make them much worse. While Inslee’s budget would do a great job of providing state-funded competitive salaries, it does nothing to limit locally funded salary enhancements. Those “enhancements” are currently over 40 percent in some districts, while no added salary is provided by many other districts. Given the current teacher shortage, if the Legislature doesn’t place some limit on such locally funded salaries, it will result in a salary bidding war in which only a fraction of the state’s school districts can compete.
The Republicans’ McCleary solution blinders are related to the party’s strong opposition to raising new revenue. Their dogged commitment to that principle has shrunk the percent of state revenue provided by our economy so much that it will undermine our state’s future ability to compete in a global economy. And it will certainly undermine any real solution to the McCleary ruling.
Several talking points driven by this ideology have been frequently used by Republicans. These include: “fund education first,” or “fund McCleary through cuts to other state services,” or “fund McCleary through economic growth.” And the real die-hard, anti-tax legislators continue to question the need for any additional funding, or even the Court’s authority to set any expectations on the Legislature. The mathematical reality is that since over 70 percent of the state budget is protected, there isn’t enough capacity with current revenues to do what’s been ordered by the Court without gutting higher education, corrections, and human services.
A bipartisan solution to McCleary will require enough Republicans to vote for new taxes to get a budget passed. But it will also require enough Democrats to vote for some limitation on locally funded salaries. It is a debatable question how the Court will respond to any solution that doesn’t provide such restrictions. But even if the Court accepts a plan without that provision, it will certainly create inequities and labor chaos that will ultimately result in another court case.
Hopefully, there are enough legislators on both sides of the aisle who understand these issues and will take votes that may split with party ideology to do what’s best for the students and other citizens of Washington state. One can hope.