Lawmakers are pushing to finish their work before the clock strikes midnight in Olympia. One of the last items on their agenda is a formal vote on a state budget plan that slashes education spending.
Of the $5 billion in reductions legislators were asked to make, education was hit the hardest, absorbing 41 percent of the budget cuts.
Last night the House approved the budget by a 54-42 vote.
Representative Cathy Dahlquist (R-Enumclaw) was one of those who voted against it.
"The proposed budget strikes a hard blow to education and I simply cannot support it," Dahlquist said. "Other departments (were cut) much less, which is unacceptable to me."
Governor Chris Gregoire commended lawmakers for approving the budget. "They took the right approach by not relying on short term fixes of budget gimmicks, and they met my requirement to leave a sizable ending fund balance to ensure we have the resources needed to carry us through our economic recovery."
"These decisions will impact every Washingtonian - and many families will lose critical state services that they've come to rely on," the Governor said.
After the House vote, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn, issued this statement:
"Our constitution is very clear: education is the state's 'paramount duty.' Our children are to receive a basic education, funded by the state. The proposed cuts to teacher salaries, classroom sizes in early grades, alternative learning programs and Medicaid billing are all basic education. I believe those cuts are unconstitutional and will lead to fewer teachers and larger class sizes. In short," Dorn said, "they will mean that students in Washington state will not receive as complete an education as they did just a few years ago."
Last year, a King County Superior Court judge ruled that the state is violating the constitutional requirement to provide its students a basic education (See McCleary v. State of Washington). The state has appeal that ruling. A hearing on the case is set before the State Supreme Court in June.
One measure included in the budget is a 1.9 percent pay cut for teaches. But, as KING 5's Robert Mak pointed out yesterday, the pay cut approved by lawmakers may not actually result in a reduction in teacher paychecks.
Teacher pay in Washington is a complicated thing. The state pays a portion, local districts pay a portion and, for some teacher classifications, the feds pay a portion.
In Seattle, for example, the average classroom teacher makes roughly $65,602 (again, this is an average. Some teachers make less, some make more). Of that, 79 percent, or $52,105, comes from the state. The district's portion is $13,497, or 21 percent.
The tricky part of the compensation equation is that the district has a contract with teachers to pay them the full $65,602. Even if the state reduces their portion by 1.9 percent (a reduction for the average teacher of about $990), the contract still says the district must pay the average teacher $65,602. So the question becomes, how do districts make up the difference?
The Seattle School District begins formal discussions on their budget on June 15 with a final vote scheduled in July. In the meantime efforts are already underway to determine how best to address the shortfall they've been handed by the state.