By Jillian Pennyman, Narver Fellow -- Washington state has not provided a pay increase for teachers in six years, despite rising costs of housing, food, and gas. The McCleary decision mandates that the Legislature fully fund education, including sizable increases to salaries for teachers and all other K-12 staff. Reinstating cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) is the first step to providing competitive wages that both retain and attract quality educators in Washington state classrooms. The House budget sought to restore previously-suspended COLAs for teachers, but in the final compromise with the Senate, teachers lost.
COLAs help salaries keep pace with the rising cost-of-living so that teachers can make ends meet and provide for their families. In 2000, voters approved Initiative 732, which requires the state to provide annual COLAs to school employees. Despite the voter’s decision, the Legislature suspended teacher COLAs in eight out of 14 years.
As seen from the graph below, teacher salaries have stagnated, remaining far lower than they would have been had they been adjusted along with the rising cost of goods. In the current school year, the average teacher’s salary is more than $5,000 below where it would be if COLAs were in place.
The McCleary ruling requires the state to fully fund basic education by 2018. The State Supreme Court has made it clear that meeting the obligation includes adequately compensating teachers. Pointing to guidance by the Compensation Technical Working Group, the Court suggested that the state needs to invest at least $1 billion more per year above inflationary adjustments in order to bridge the salary gap. Yet, basic cost-of-living adjustments (which would have cost about $55 million to reinstate in the 2014 Supplemental Budget) have yet to be restored, and salaries were even cut by 1.9 percent during the 2011-13 biennium. Prolonging the suspension of COLAs has caused salaries to stagnate.
Inadequate pay makes it more difficult to retain quality teachers, which can have a negative impact on student learning. According to the Teacher Retention and Mobility Report for the Center for Strengthening the Teacher Profession, inadequate salaries are a major reason that school districts have a problem retaining teachers. Educators are more likely to leave the profession when they are not paid an equitable salary, which can negatively affect students and school performance.
While the final budget includes a modest increase in funding for textbooks and classroom supplies, teacher salaries are neglected. The Legislature must get serious about fully funding education, and reinstating COLA adjustments for teachers is an obvious place to start.
The 2014 Legislative Session concluded last week as scheduled with the passage of a supplemental budget that makes some changes to spending, while putting off larger decisions around education funding. While little progress was made to increase funding for education this year, it can’t be avoided in the next budget cycle.
The budget spends a net of $115 million above appropriations in the original 2013-15 budget. The majority of the spending increase ($89 million) addresses changes in caseloads, inflation, and other maintenance level adjustments that allow the same level of state services. The remaining $66 million reflects the balance of policy decisions that either increase or reduce state investments.
As the graph below shows, compared to original funding levels for the two-year budget period, services that help families achieve economic security are reduced by $82 million. The bulk of the reduction stems from fewer people receiving services that help them find and keep a job, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). As we have explained previously, declines in TANF participation are not a sign of success, but rather a result of policy choices that have severely limited access to the program. Every other area of state investment is increased compared to original spending levels for the two-year budget period.
The largest single investment in the supplemental budget is $58 million for textbooks and supplies in K – 12 classrooms. While this addition in funding helps in meeting McCleary and fully funding basic education, it is a very small investment compared to the more than $4.5 billion that will ultimately be needed.
Outside of K-12, other state investments are made in education, include $25 million for scholarships for students pursuing a degree in a high demand field (Opportunity Scholarships), over $23 million in increased payments to early learning providers, and $5 million to provide financial aid to undocumented youth (DREAM Act). See chart for more details on specific budget decisions.
The elephant in the room is the significant increase in funding that will be required to fully fund basic education by 2018. In the next biennium, at least $2 billion more will be needed for the next installment towards meeting McCleary. Yet, projected revenues are expected to fall short of simply maintaining current investments. While this year lawmakers dodged the reality that new revenue will be needed, that truth will be inescapable next year.
Executive Director Remy Trupin appeared on TVW's "Inside Olympia" last week. As the legislative session wrapped up, the discussion focused on the long-term.
Remy discussed education funding and the impact of the McCleary decision, revenue options, and the next biennial budget. He was joined by Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center.
Executive Director Remy Trupin released a statement this afternoon in response to the 2014 supplemental budget proposal:
“Today’s budget deal puts off the hard work of responding to the McCleary mandate to fully fund education. While the final budget does include some resources for education, it falls well short of what is needed.
Every year that the Legislature delays, kids, teachers, parents, and administrators feel the impact. Tinkering around the edges will not get our kids and teachers what they need for success, nor will it set them up well for the future.
With the State Supreme Court requiring a funding plan from legislators by April 30th, it is imperative that work continues now to set our state on a path for fully funding education. That is the only way we can make real progress next legislative session. ”
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Legislation proposed by the Senate (SB 5881) to direct two-thirds of all state revenue growth to education for the next 10 years is another effort to divert attention away from the real challenges policymakers face in the years ahead. Rearranging current, inadequate levels of state funding will not magically produce new resources needed to invest in a world-class education system and rebuild our state economy. The proposal would undermine both of those goals by forcing devastating cuts to health care, public safety, child care, and other important investments kids need in order to succeed in the classroom.
The Senate plan banks on rearranging existing resources to make greater investments in education. However, projected revenue growth will not be enough in the next biennium to even maintain the same level of services that the state currently provides. Plus, lawmakers will need to make the next installment towards meeting our obligation to fully fund basic education, which will cost at least an additional $2 billion. Basic math shows that this proposal is not an answer to meeting the state’s needs, nor will it get us any closer to meeting the demands of McCleary (see graph).
The cost to maintain the same level of services in the state budget must be adjusted each year to account for more kids in the classroom, retiring baby boomers, changes in the prison population, and inflationary costs. Yet the Senate’s proposal disregards this basic budgeting principle, just as it did when it proposed its 2014 Supplemental Budget.
Senate Bill 5881 is irresponsible and ignores the reality that additional resources are needed to truly meet our education funding challenges while maintaining other important investments.
Our Senior Budget Analyst Kim Justice testified this morning before Senate Ways and Means against Senate Bill 5881.
Here are her remarks,
While we think it is important to have a long-term plan to fund education, we think this proposal takes the wrong approach for two reasons:
1. Revenue growth will not be enough in the next biennium to even cover the costs to continue what we do now, much less make the necessary investments in education.
Based on the Senate’s proposed 2014 supplemental budget, revenues will fall about $70 million short of maintaining current services in the next biennium. At the same time, an additional $2 billion will be needed to make the next installment towards meeting McCleary.
The math just does not work. Simply rearranging our inadequate resources is not going to fix our funding challenge.
2. This proposal would force deep and damaging cuts to other things kids need to be good learners, such as access to food, health care, and a stable home.
Cuts to these services would undermine any investments made in education.
We are also concerned that deeper cuts to current services could violate federal and constitutional requirements. After over $10 billion in cuts in the last few years, it’s questionable that we could further reduce state services without violating legal requirements like paying for debt service, prisons, and providing adequate services for children in foster care.
The bottom line is that we have a resource problem. We cannot just rearrange current dollars to meet our needs. Instead, I would urge you to look for ways to raise stable, adequate revenue to both fund education and maintain the other investments that are intrinsically linked to the success of kids in the classroom."
Our Executive Director Remy Trupin released a statement on the bill this morning. You can read it here.