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NKEA president 'encouraged' by gov's funding request

POULSBO — Teachers at public schools and colleges have not received cost-of-living adjustments for the past five years.

The suspension of salary cost-of-living adjustments put certified teachers and classified employees with a 16 percent loss of pay.

"Educators have definitely been feeling the impact of not having a COLA for five years," North Kitsap Education Association Co-President Chris Fraser said.

But educators and school districts may soon have some financial relief. Gov. Jay Inslee asked the Legislature for $200 million in additional education funding Jan. 14; a portion of that $200 million is earmarked for cost-of-living increases for educators.

"I feel comfortable speaking for educators: We are very relieved that the governor is supporting additional money for education," Fraser said. "That will put legislative actions more in line with the McCleary decision."

In that case, also known as McCleary v. State, the state Supreme Court ruled the state Legislature must fully fund public education in accordance with the state Constitution. The Legislature has until April 30 to figure out how it will meet that requirement by the 2017-18 school year. The state Supreme Court ordered the deadline after determining lawmakers were moving too slowly.

Regarding the latest budget, the court wrote: “Looking at the gross numbers, the overall increased investment in basic education is only a modest 6.7 percent above current funding levels that violate the constitution.”

There needs to be "significant increases" if the Legislature is going to fully fund basic education, Fraser said. Every year schools do not have that increased funding, students are affected, she said.

Inslee said in his noontime State of the State Address Jan. 14 before the Legislature, “Promises don’t educate our children. Promises don’t build our economy and promises don’t satisfy our constitutional and moral obligations.

“We need to stop downplaying the significance of this court action. Education is the one paramount duty inscribed in our constitution.”

In addition, Inslee pressed lawmakers to pass a transportation package and increase the state’s minimum wage by as much as $2.50 an hour. Today, the minimum wage in Washington is $9.32 per hour.

Regarding education funding, the first-term Democratic governor will propose closing tax breaks to generate the revenue, a change he sought without much success last year. He didn’t spell out which tax breaks he will seek to close.

“You can expect that again I will bring forward tax exemptions that I think fall short when weighed against the needs of our schools,” according to the remarks provided in advance of his speech.

On transportation, Inslee urged lawmakers to find common ground in time to reach agreement before this year’s 60-day session ends in March. The House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate is controlled by Republicans.

“If education is the heart of our economy, then transportation is the backbone. That’s why we need a transportation investment package,” he said. “The goal cannot be for everyone to get everything they want. Instead, we must get agreement on what our state needs.”

And he said he wasn’t sure how much the minimum wage should climb but knows it needs to be higher than it is today.

“I don’t have the exact number today for what our minimum wage should be. It won’t be a number that remedies 50 years of income inequality,” he said. “But I believe that an increase in the range of $1.50 to $2.50 an hour is a step toward closing the widening economic gap.”

The governor also called for reform that would ensure businesses pay no business and occupation tax if they earn less than $50,000 in revenue in a year.

— This story originally appeared on the Everett Herald’s Heraldnet.com and was written by Jerry Cornfield. North Kitsap Herald reporter Kipp Robertson contributed to this version.

 

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