The new school funding bill (EHB2242) was developed behind closed doors by a small group of legislators and staffers with no public hearings. This approach resulted in a poorly conceived set of changes which impact the state’s 295 school districts very differently with some big winners and many losers. The 1.1 million students in our state deserve a state funding model that not only provides ample funding but also does so in a way that is fair and equitable to all.
Three serious flaws in the legislation must be changed this session:
Teacher experience penalizes districts: Each of our districts has done an excellent job at attracting and retaining talented teachers. We collaborate with local universities, recruit across our region and nation, and provide results-focused professional development programs. We work to provide competitive salaries and quality benefits. As a result, we have many teachers who spend their entire career serving students in our community while pursuing advanced degrees and refining their talent. This also means that, on average, we have more experienced teachers than the statewide average. Prior to the passage of EHB2242, each district received funding from the state based upon the district’s average teacher salary. This statewide salary schedule honors the education and experience of our teachers.
Unfortunately, the new model is based on the statewide average teacher experience/education. This penalizes districts in Thurston County for hiring and retaining well-trained experienced teachers.
Regionalization: In an attempt to address cost-of-living differences, legislators determined that some districts would receive additional “regionalization” funding. Unfortunately, this model is seriously flawed, resulting in neighboring districts with nearly identical cost of living indicators receiving significantly different levels of funding for salaries. As an example, North Thurston Public Schools (Lacey) received a regionalization factor that is 6 percent more than Olympia or Tumwater, even though the cost of living in this region is very similar. Likewise, Tacoma Public Schools will receive 12 percent more funding than the Bethel School District only 20 miles away. While 6 percent or 12 percent may not seem significant, it translates into thousands more per state-funded teacher for districts receiving any level of regionalization. Statewide, over one-third of all school districts (106 of 295 districts) are on the losing side of this regionalization funding model. In addition, the extra regionalization factor that is provided to North Thurston Public Schools disappears in future years.
Local levy loss: Voters in our region have a long history of support for local school levies which allows us to provide comprehensive programs supporting academics, arts, activities and athletics along with the staff that serve in these programs. The new state funding bill takes away a significant amount of local levy funding from our districts despite local voter approval of these measures. The new law imposes an increase to the statewide school property tax that takes dollars away from our local districts and gives it to other districts, most of which surround Puget Sound from Pierce County north to Whatcom County.
How can we fix this?
We are gravely concerned about the loss in local funding our districts are facing as a result of EHB2242. As superintendents, we continue to urge our legislative district representatives to share our concerns and develop fixes to address these flaws:
▪ Restore a state teacher salary schedule and fund each district based upon average teacher costs.
▪ Develop an equitable regionalization funding model to more accurately reflect the actual differences in cost of living in each school district.
▪ Restore more local levy authority to ensure our communities maintain the right to choose whether or not to support programs and services for our students which are not funded by the state.
Our community counts on us to graduate all our students with the skills and passion to pursue their chosen career and become a contributing member of society. We are deeply committed to achieving this goal, which requires an ample, stable and equitable funding model we can rely upon! As of Feb. 22, both the House and Senate have taken steps in the right direction to fix EHB2242; we appreciate the collaborative work on this issue, however, the concerns we have expressed above have yet to be sufficiently addressed for Thurston County school districts.
John Bash, Bryon Bahr, Joe Belmonte, Debra J. Clemens, Kim Fry, Patrick Murphy, Brian Wharton, Greg Woods
Thurston County superintendents