Washington lawmakers look to raise spending on K-12 schools

by Grace Deng

Washington lawmakers want to send more money to schools with this year’s state budget — but Senate and House proposals differ in where that money goes. 

The House’s plan would increase funding for maintenance, operations and supplies — in other words, how schools keep the lights on. Senate lawmakers want to shave money from the account that covers these nuts and bolts costs, and instead bump up pay for paraeducators and other school support staff. 

School districts say the House’s proposal – an increase of $21 per student – won’t keep up with inflation. Meanwhile, education officials say paraeducators deserve more than what they’ll get in the Senate budget. 

Discussion over the spending comes as districts around the state face budget woes, with some turning to school closures as a result. Education is the largest share of Washington’s budget, but it is tied to student headcounts and has fallen in recent years as enrollment has declined. 

Schools can raise money from local property taxes, but these levies are capped under state law, and the vast majority of K-12 education funding comes from the state. 

Deciding how much additional funding to provide schools — and where those funds go — is one of the key issues that lawmakers will have to settle in budget negotiations before this year’s legislative session ends on March 7.

In the House

The House’s proposed operating budget, which passed over the weekend, includes a $21 per student increase in maintenance, operations and supplies spending, totaling $1,504.44 per student for the 2023-2024 school year. (Districts would get that additional funding retroactively, since the 2023-2024 school year is already in full swing.) 

“The real need to keep us up with inflation’s actual costs since 2019 is closer to $400 per student,” said Melissa Gombosky, a former teacher and a lobbyist for Evergreen and Vancouver public schools. 

In the 2024-2025 school year, the House’s budget allocates $1,533.02 per student. 

That’s equivalent to about $43.4 million more in spending through June 30 of next year when the state’s current budget cycle ends. 

In the Senate

The Senate’s proposed operating budget, approved last Friday, doesn’t include the House’s bump for maintenance, supplies and operations costs. 

Previously, the state had allocated $1,483.44 per student during the 2023-2024 school year for those costs. The Senate’s proposal stays true to that amount and then proposes a $3 per student cut in the 2024-2025 school year. 

Instead, the Senate’s plan adds $49.6 million in a different account that flows to schools. This money can cover salaries and staffing. 

That funding is also a response to calls to pay paraeducators in Washington more. Paraeducators currently make an average of $22 to $28 an hour, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction called on the Legislature to give paraeducators $7 more per hour, calling current compensation “not a living wage.” Gov. Jay Inslee included a $3 pay bump for paraeducators in his proposed supplemental budget. 

While the Senate’s plan does not specifically pay paraeducators more, it offers schools more money to allocate to paraeducator pay. Paraeducators last week rallied at the Capitol to demand higher pay. 

The Washington Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union, said paraprofessionals are “severely underpaid and it has led to a staffing crisis in districts across the state.” 

“Any action by the legislature to increase ESP pay or staffing is a step in the right direction,” the union said. “WEA will continue pursuing the needed increases in the 2025 session.” 

Republished with permission. Read the original article.

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