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Statewide inflationary raise for teachers becomes law, to no media fanfare

On Apr. 6, Governor Jay Inslee signed ESB 5650 into law, effective July 23. Before signing, he briefly summarized the bill’s purpose. “This increases K-12 state salary allocations in line with inflation, which helps our schools hire and retain qualified educators and school staff,” Inslee said during a ceremony in Olympia.

Unlike other bills signed that day, accompanied by photo ops, this process took less than thirty seconds from the moment the bill was placed in front of Inslee to his signed endorsement. But the effects of this new state law will be considerable, directly affecting the lives of teachers, school employees, and students.

The bill updates an “inflationary adjustment index,” used to scale salaries proportionally, and will provide “inflationary adjustment allocations” to school districts for distribution. For the 2023-24 school year, this translates to a 3.7% adjustment in salary. The bill’s intent is that, in subsequent years, salaries will continue to increase along with rising inflation.

More Perfect Union stated that “teachers will now make at least $72,728, while the minimum pay for office staff, custodians and other school workers will be $24/hour.” Their tweet cited a Wenatchee radio station that has so far published the only article on the bill’s signing. The station, KPQ, reported that “salary increases total to approximately $1 billion” – presumably fully included in the state-provided allocations to school districts.

The Everett Daily Herald also mentioned the new law in their political newsletter, “Cornfield Report.” Reporter Jerry Cornfield wrote, “I didn’t expect a big crowd for Senate Bill 5650. I didn’t expect the governor to be ghosted either… A head scratcher on why no one from the education establishment showed up.”

Outside of those three sources, coverage on ESB 5650 has been nonexistent thus far. It’s as if major regional publications are waiting for something else to happen; although its effective date is in July, the bill became law several weeks ago. Despite its importance, the bill’s details have not yet been fully reported on or analyzed for the public’s benefit.

Just north of Seattle, the Edmonds School District has recently experienced worrying budget and program cuts, as well as dozens of layoffs. A middle school teacher in Lynnwood discussed the state of working in education, as well as potential impacts of this new state law.

“It was maybe 5 years ago when we last got a big raise. We’re making more here than teachers in most other states make… but other than these cost-of-living raises, I haven’t had any raises for 15 years,” shared the teacher.

While welcoming the bill as a positive measure, she expressed concern that its benefits might not apply to librarians, nurses, or counselors in some districts. “When it comes to raises… our district has to do the same thing for employees that aren’t paid by the state. If we get a raise, they get a raise, even though the state doesn’t pay for them.” While a potential concern could be school districts downsizing further as a result, she doubted the bill would contribute to that effect. Even before ESB 5650 passed the state legislature, teaching positions statewide were jeopardized by district cuts.

Prior to our conversation, the teacher hadn’t heard of the new law, besides a brief mention in a school board meeting. Surprised at the lack of media coverage, she said, “Maybe one reason it’s not being picked up is that many school districts are in a budget crisis. Lots of teachers are getting laid off.”

Over time, the law may prove its effectiveness as an inflationary mitigator for teachers in WA state. If so, perhaps similar legislation could be adopted nationwide. Teachers in red states would particularly benefit from such an allocation: to quote a teacher in West Virginia, “I’m in year two of teaching with a master’s degree. I think I’m at $17 an hour.”


Kayvon Bumpus was The Seattle Collegian's Managing Editor. An immersed writer, lifelong musician, and Seattleite, he hopes to use journalism to elucidate and convey varieties of knowledge - a worthwhile endeavor in our current age of distraction and disinformation.

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