Teacher pay and school outcomes don’t have to compete for state dollars

School budgets and teacher contracts should focus on making sure every child in Washington gets a good education that prepares them for college and career.

The school year might be ending, but many districts and teachers unions across Washington are negotiating their first contracts since the Supreme Court approved the Legislature’s reforms in response to its 2012 McCleary decision.

Parents, administrators and teachers should remember that the school funding case was not just about more money for schools or teacher salaries. The school funding lawsuit also was about making sure every child in Washington gets a high-quality education that prepares them for college and career. Budgets and teacher contracts should support this ideal.

School and union officials have hard work before them, interpreting the Legislature’s new guidelines for school budgets and teacher pay.

The Legislature’s response to the 2012 Supreme Court McCleary decision does not require school districts to choose between generous pay for school employees and money for classroom supplies, textbooks, technology, transportation and building maintenance. The state budget meets most basic education needs, with the untenable exception of special education.

School districts must be careful, however, not to commit more dollars to teacher contracts than they are receiving from the state. Under the new system, local voters will not be able to make up the difference with property-tax levies if contracts take school districts into the red. The Legislature said local levies can be spent only on enhancements, not basic education. Voters, as well as state education officials and the state auditor, must closely monitor local levies to make sure school districts do not draw outside the lines of the new state laws.

The first big contract of the summer, for the Lake Washington School District, appears overly generous on first glance. But that agreement — averaging 15 percent increases in teacher salaries — does not go beyond the parameters set by the Legislature. Beginning teachers are paid more and so are more advanced educators. The new regional pay strategy approved by lawmakers is not perfect, but it does give districts like Lake Washington, spread across Redmond and Kirkland, more money to attract teachers to these higher-cost suburbs, home to Microsoft and Google.

Officials of the state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, have been crowing loudly about the great teacher contracts their locals have negotiated this spring. Don’t be distracted by their enthusiasm. School districts big and small are giving teachers raises because the state’s new regional pay system provides additional dollars for teachers living in the most expensive places in the state.

Every parent and school official must remember the state is putting more money into education because it is Washington’s paramount duty to educate the state’s 1.1 million children, and improving outcomes is the goal.

School districts can do this. That includes more help for struggling students, good counseling to help young people graduate on time, guidance toward the next steps after high school, support for early learning programs and outreach to parents.

Outstanding teachers should be paid well but school improvement is about more than teacher contracts. School officials and parents should keep this in mind during contract-negotiation season.


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