Democrat education plan would greatly help Wahluke Schools

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OLYMPIA — The House Democrats’ education plan, if passed, could bring an additional $1,200 to local school districts, with the biggest increase in Wahluke School District.

Under the new law, Moses Lake would see an increase of $1,380 per student, Quincy would receive $1,140, Othello would receive $1,500, Royal would receive $1,450 and Wahluke would receive an additional $1,540 per student.

Prime sponsor of the bill and majority leader in the House, Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the plan sticks to the current school funding model.

“It allows parents to get engaged,” Sullivan said. “If it’s just a per-pupil amount, there is no transparency there. There is no way a member of the public or a parent could actually figure that out.”

The plan, HB843, includes 10 professional development days for school district staff.

Wahluke School District superintendent Aaron Chavez said with teacher shortages and low starting pay, attracting qualified teachers is difficult. He said the district often hires teachers who may only be certified for elementary grade levels and the district works with them after they are hired to certify in other areas.

“We have a lot of our staff that don’t necessarily have the endorsement they need right when they get here,” Chavez said. “So we have to provide that additional PD (professional development), so any help we could get from the state would be greatly appreciated.”

Chavez said he couldn’t say which plan he thought was better and would support whichever brought more funding or support for students in his district. He said the Republicans’ plan was interesting, but he wasn’t sure the new provisions, the levy swap or new funding allocation model, might not be too different to ever become reality.

“The Democrats’ plan may bring more revenue toward our school district,” Chavez said. “We know there are some ideas around levy swaps, but until we get some final numbers, we’re going to plan like we always have every year. We’re hoping the state’s budget moves quickly, gets adopted and those bills move forward.”

Critics of the plan, such as Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, who voted against the bill in the House, said he believes the “wait on the revenue” part of the plan was a strategy to avoid introducing new taxes.

“They want to negotiate first and vote second,” Manweller said. “The Senate wants to vote first and negotiate second.”

The Republicans have been criticized for an error in the calculations which could leave funding gap amounting to a couple of billion dollars for their plan. Manweller said the mistake was based on number of students estimated and even with estimation errors, he sees the Republicans’ levy swap plan as the best option.

“There’s a big difference between a staff mistake, which is easily correctable,” Manweller said, “and an education funding system that has no funding plan, that’s the big difference.”

The Democrats’ plan also directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a work group, establish an accountability system and make a report to the Legislature based on the information gathered from the work group and accountability system.

The bill has been voted through the House and awaits further action in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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