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New $3.5 billion proposal aims to reduce reliance on local school levies

by caprecord

Paying competitive salaries for teachers and school employees would be the full responsibility of the state — not local school districts — under a new bill introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators on Thursday.

The proposal would cost $3.5 billion over four years starting in 2018, and would not move forward without a dedicated revenue source attached. Lawmakers at a press conference Thursday say an agreement on the price tag shows a significant step forward, but work still needs to be done to find a way to pay for it.

School districts across the state are currently using a large chunk of their local property tax levy money to pay salaries — as much as 70 percent of local levy dollars in some districts.

Senate Bill 6130 aims to reduce that reliance on local levies to address concerns raised by the Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary decision, which ruled the state was not meeting its duty to fully fund basic education.

The bill changes the definition of basic education to include competitive, market-based statewide salaries for school employees. The salaries would be reviewed periodically.

However, the salary provisions would only take effect if a revenue source is enacted by January 1, 2018 that generates enough money to pay for the increased salaries. The bill says that the state budget should not be cut to make up the additional revenue.

“The average teacher in Federal Way is paid $10,000 less than a teacher in Auburn next door,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier. He said the bill is an attempt to make a “rational system that works across Washington,” with the goal of providing an equal education for all students.

Sen. Christine Rolfes said some teachers would receive salary increases under the bill, while other school districts would still have to use a portion of levy dollars to make up the difference. All school districts would see a “significant increase” in funding under the bill, she said.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. TVW will carry the hearing live at this link.

Legislators at the press conference Thursday acknowledged the bill was unlikely to advance during the current special session. The press conference will be posted at this link.

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