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Here are the Answers to Your WEA Legislative Town Hall Questions

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Thousands of educators from around the state participated in WEA’s first-ever legislative tele town hall last week. We received many excellent questions about what’s happening in the state Legislature around education issues. WEA President Kim Mead and Governmental Relations Director Rod Regan answered many of those questions, but there were a few they didn’t have time to answer. You can read WEA’s legislative priorities here. Here are some of those questions and answers:

Is WEA pushing to reinstate the COLA, and is there an effort to get retroactive funding for the years missed? Will we see a COLA or other pay increases?

  • Yes, WEA is pushing to reinstate the COLA. But let’s be clear: A COLA is not a raise. It is a cost-of-living adjustment. Because the Legislature has failed to fund COLAs for the last six years, educators have lost more than 12 percent in buying power. Gov. Inslee has proposed a mere 3 percent COLA next year and 1.8 percent the next year — nowhere near the level of pay increases that are needed for K-12 educators.
  • Tweaking the COLA won’t even offset the health care cost increase for most educators. Gov. Inslee’s budget makes things even worse – offering NO increase in health care funding for K-12 school employees. Yet Inslee proposes increasing monthly health care funding for each state employee (including legislators) to a level that is nearly $200 higher than that of a K-12 worker.
  • WEA has helped introduce legislation that would increase state allocations for salaries by the amount needed to reinstate the skipped COLAs. While these bills have been introduced, they have not had hearings.
  • WEA is also advocating for the Legislature to fund the professional, competitive wages for educators, as outlined by a state Compensation Technical Working Group. Under the state’s comparable wage recommendations, state funding for a starting teacher’s base salary would increase from about $34,000 to about $53,000. (These numbers are from the state salary report and have been updated for inflation.)

Will the make-up of class sizes matter?

  • WEA is encouraging members to tell their class size stories to their legislators and to encourage full funding of the new law (I-1351). Smaller class sizes are part of the definition of basic education, and cannot be changed for economic reasons. High-poverty schools will see smaller class sizes first, thus providing better learning opportunities for the students who most need them.
  • I-1351 allows school districts to provide extra support staff specialists to meet classroom needs.

Are specialists included in the class size average, and how are special ed classes affected by the law?

  • Yes, specialists – like music, art and PE teachers are included in the class size averages.
  • Special education funding is increased by I-1351 – but there are no specific class size or caseloads for special education in the initiative. Class sizes and services for special education students should be dictated by the students IEP – and the additional funding will provide districts, through local bargaining, the flexibility to meet students’ needs and decrease caseloads simultaneously.

What class sizes can we expect in fourth to sixth grade?

  • Under the law, high-poverty schools would have an average of 23 kids in fourth through sixth grades. (K-3 would have 15 students).
  • Other schools would have an average of 25 kids in those grades. (K-3 would have 17 students).

Will the legislature restore COLAs for retired Plan 1 members?

  • There are two bills that would create an annual COLA for Plan 1 members consistent with the COLAs provided for Plan 2 and 3 members. The bill numbers are HB 2138, introduced by Representative Reykdal, and SB 6017, introduced by Senator Marko Liias. These bills are in the fiscal committees and have not yet received a hearing in the Legislature.

What is the status of the bill that would allow retired teachers to work as subs?

  • All retirees, except for those who retire under the 2008 Early Retirement Factors (ERFs), can work up to 867 hours in a year without having their benefits suspended. Those who retire early using the 2008 ERFs cannot work for a state-covered employer without having their benefits suspended immediately if they return to work before age 65. With a shortage of substitutes in our schools, this financial disincentive to return to work has created problems in filling substitute needs in schools.
  • There are several bills that would allow teachers who retired under the 2008 ERFs to work as substitutes in schools. Two of the four bills have received hearings in the fiscal committees. SB 5148 would exempt work as a substitute teacher from the restrictions under the 2008 ERFs. In addition, HB 1737 would allow 2008 ERF retirees to work 216 hours per year as a substitute without having benefits suspended, but would only allow this for the next four years.
  • WEA prefers the bills (HB 1615/SB 5545) that would place all retirees under the same return to work rules, allowing 867 hours per year. However, these bills have not been scheduled for a hearing to date. The bills that appear poised to gain momentum in the legislature are SB 5148 and HB 1737 – both of which take a step toward addressing the substitute issue.

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