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Washington lawmakers debate teacher shortage crisis; 2 solutions being pushed

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- There’s a big debate in Olympia over combating the teacher shortage crisis throughout Washington.  Local districts have thousands of positions to fill over the next few years.  In many schools, principals are leading classrooms because of the vacancies.

This week lawmakers are scrambling to respond … and arguing over different solutions.

There are two answers being pushed:   Democrats are calling for a big boost in pay to attract teachers; Republicans would rather cut the red tape that surrounds the profession.

Here are the highlights of the Democrats' $100 million plan:

  • Boost starting teacher pay to $40,000
  • Enhance bonuses; create mentor programs
  • Close tax loopholes, including prescription drug-resellers and international investment firms to pay for proposal

“We believe that corporations aren’t entitled to those tax breaks,” said Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.  “We believe that the children of our state are entitled to a great education. So this is a small step to move forward, but an important step for us.”

GOP leaders, on the other hand, want to avoid an costly pay increase, and instead propose the following policy changes.

  • Allow retired teachers return to classrooms without pension penalty
  • Alternative certification for those who are qualified
  • Recruitment program to encourage recent graduate to consider the profession.

“Here’s an opportunity to attract kids to an area where they have jobs, with an average salary of over $66,000 a year,” said Rep. Chad Magendaz, R-Issaquah.  “It’s a very attractive profession, but right now I think there’s not a lot of awareness of the need for more teachers.”

The GOP plan has already passed the state Senate.  The fate of the Democratic plan is much less certain, given the revenue increases that it calls for.