Op-ed by Chris Korsmo, CEO League of Education Voters

To Members of the Washington State Legislature,

Thank you for your hard work and commitment to ensuring a high-quality public education for each Washington student, from early learning through higher education. The Legislature is poised to pass the most comprehensive education budget in the history of the state that has the potential to increase opportunities for all Washington students

But there is important work that still needs to be done.

We must ensure expanded access to quality early learning by passing the Early Start Act. We must increase the number of people who can access the State Need Grant Program. But the biggest job left to tackle is in K–12 education. To address legal issues and profound inequity in the current system, we must design a cogent, viable, funding plan for K–12 education.

The recent proposals from legislative leaders, Superintendent Dorn, and State Treasurer McIntire put a lot of the elements on the table. They include components the League of Education Voters believes are critical to student success and to provide the stability our teachers deserve and our constitution requires:

  • Levy and funding reformEnd reliance on local levy funding to fund basic K–12 education expenses, including teacher salaries. In addition to being legally required, this will address the inequities in the current system. Levy reform is a critical first step, but on its own it will not provide enough funding for the necessary systemic investments that must be made in the coming years.
  • Teacher compensation and professional development reformPay for K–12 teacher salaries from state funds, not local levies. This will make teacher salary increases more uniform statewide, facilitating more equitable compensation for teachers from district to district.Strategic investments in K–12 teacher compensation are a good start, but LEV believes they must be combined with time for high-quality, job-aligned professional learning, team collaboration, and planning.
  • Increases to starting teacher salariesIncrease starting base pay for teachers. In Washington, starting base pay for beginning teachers is $34,048. Changes to our state’s compensation system are necessary to attract, retain, and reward quality teaching. Our current system pays too little for starting teachers, is results blind, and is too focused on time served and degrees earned rather than the difficulty of the job, student growth, and career ladders.
  • Healthcare for all K–12 employeesShift the responsibility for all K–12 employees’ health benefits to the state. This will save the state money and increase the quality of coverage for thousands of employees, not just teachers. It will reduce out-of-pocket costs for most K–12 employees, especially those with families.

Good pay, benefits, and a thriving work environment will help us recruit and retain the best public school employees. The policy proposals above provide a framework for the most critical investments that must be made to move forward our K–12 system. We must be certain that there is real money to pay for these essential elements.

Unless we complete this important work, we won’t see dramatic increases in student achievement we should expect and demand and the legal bind the Legislature is in will continue.

Collectively, the Legislature has made real progress.

Now you have the chance to do something truly historic.

Chris Korsmo is CEO of the League of Education Voters, a statewide nonpartisan organization working to improve public education for each Washington student, from early learning through higher education. Read more about LEV’s vision at A Way Forward.

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