The 2019 legislative session ended April 28, and WEA lobbyists have had time to analyze how the new state budget and related changes in school funding will affect K-12 and higher education students and staff.
Overall state funding for K-12 public schools for 2019-21 is increasing by nearly 20 percent – thanks in part to ongoing funding required by the Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision.
Funding for K-12 public schools is the single largest part of the state’s general fund budget.
One of the most significant funding increases will affect an estimated 300,000 K-12 school employees and their families. Beginning in January 2020, they’ll be switched to a new state-run health care insurance system, called the School Employees Benefits Board (SEBB). Currently, health insurance is negotiated at the school district level.
Under the new plan, the state is increasing funding for educator health benefits by around $543 million. (Negotiations with providers have brought down expected costs compared to previous estimates. Benefit levels are the same.)
Educators who insure their families are expected to pay substantially less for out-of-pocket premiums, and part-time school employees who work more than 630 hours a year will now receive full benefits under the system. Individual employees may pay slightly more than they currently do. Premera, Kaiser Permanente, Providence and Regence are among the companies that will be offering a variety of insurance plans.
Here is the WEA PowerPoint presentation (download) about the change in health insurance, and here is WEA’s background webpage.
2019 Legislature adjourns; K-12 and higher education students will benefit
WEA members made gains in higher education funding this session.
The pro-student, pro-educator majorities in the state House and the Senate heard educators’ concerns and addressed several of WEA’s top priorities this session. Here are some of the biggest wins from the 2019 Legislature that will benefit our K-12 and higher education students:
- Increased higher education funding, including funding to improve some faculty salaries and to expand financial aid for college students. (HB 2158)
- Removed high-school tests as a barrier to graduation. (HB 1599)
- Funded the negotiated health care agreement for K-12 educators, which will expand access to quality, affordable health care for many lower-paid and part-time school employees, including ESP members. (School Employees Benefits Board, or SEBB)
- Increased funding for special education students by $155 million.
- Increased K-12 funding by nearly 20 percent overall, including the continued phase-in of funding related to the historic McCleary Supreme Court decision.
- Invested $500 million in COLAs for K-12 educators. COLAs are now built into the state budget on an ongoing basis as part of basic education.
- Increased local school levy flexibility, which will allow voters in school districts the ability to continue meeting the needs of their students beyond state-funded basic education. This levy legislation will help school districts avoid the major budget cuts and layoffs threatened in some districts. (SB 5313)
The legislative process requires compromise, and all of these bills evolved throughout the 105-day legislative session that began in January and ended April 28. On issues such as testing, faculty salaries and special education, we have more work ahead of us. (The testing bill calls for a review of new pathways to graduation, college faculty salaries still aren’t competitive and special ed remains underfunded.)
The Legislature also fell short on WEA priorities such as funding paraeducator training and a cost-of-living adjustment for retired educators. School safety and the need for more counselors, social workers, psychologists and mental health support for students remains a priority, too. Legislators still must fund voter-approved Initiative 1351, which mandates smaller class sizes in all grade levels and additional support for low-income schools.
Supporting our students is an ongoing, never-ending focus for WEA members. Locally and at the state level, we’ll continue to advocate for the resources and support students and educators need to be successful.
We also thank the WEA members who serve in the Legislature. Rep. Monica Stonier, Rep. Sharon Shewmake, Rep. Steve Bergquist and Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self all took leadership roles on education issues.