When Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled his supplemental budget proposal in December, he called it a “hold-steady budget” that did not raise taxes. But in his State of the State address less than a month later, he proposed giving teachers a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), to be paid for by a $200 million tax increase (details of which Inslee has still not released).
The state teachers union already has co-sponsors on their COLA bill from a majority of state House members. Democrats cheered Inslee’s COLA proposal with ready-made talking points, but had to justify why, at a time when legislators are scrounging for funds to meet the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on basic education funding, a teacher COLA is the best investment to make.
Mercurial state Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish) justified it this way:
“Teachers in my district — their pay is being cut,” Dunshee said Tuesday. “That essentially is what is going on when you don’t have a COLA. It’s 15 to 20 percent (in buying power) they have lost (since 2008). … This (bill) essentially holds them even.”
We all know that having a great teacher is one of the most important factors in a child’s learning, and we all want to see teachers compensated fairly. But is it true that teacher pay hasn’t risen since 2008?
No, it isn’t. Teacher compensation has risen 10.7% since 2008. Average base salary funding from the state has risen 4.4% during that time, and the rest of the 10.7% is supplemental pay, largely coming directly from the school districts. The chart below is from a document prepared by non-partisan LEAP staff.
There are a lot ways to spin the numbers, but it’s pretty tough to look at an average 10.7% pay increase in five years and say, as Rep. Dunshee does, that “their pay is being cut.”
Most likely, the big push by Democrats for a teacher COLA this year is because they know that, as the state tries to meet its McCleary goals, next year’s budget will spend a lot more on education – better to get that pay increase now, so next year’s increase doesn’t look as large.