Friday, December 28, 2012

Washington's minimum wage workers are getting a raise

​On January 1, 2013, minimum wage workers in 10 states - including ours - will receive pay increases as a result of legislation.
In our state's case, the increase is 15 cents per hour, bringing the total hourly minimum wage in Washington to $9.19.
Since January 1, 1999, Washington's minimim wage workers have received annual cost-of-living adjustments thanks to Initiative 688 (with the exception of 2010, when there was no increase). This law, which the voters overwhelmingly approved by over 66 percent, requires the state Department of Labor and Industries to make yearly adjustments to the minimum wage based on the federal Consumer Price Index.
While $9.19 an hour is nearly $2.00 an hour more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, it still amounts to an annual income of less than $20,000 per year.
In other words, nobody's living large on minimum wage.
Here's a helpful chart on the history of Washington's minimum wage.
This article from Stateline talks about efforts to boost the minimum wage in other states as well as at the federal level. It also links to a 2010 study that failed to find a correlation between the kind of minimum wage increases seen in states and layoffs/job losses.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Schools – and taxpayers – save money with green building

In 2005, Washington made history: it became the first state in the nation to pass a green building law, after a big push by Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish).

That means new schools, and other buildings, funded by state taxpayers are built smart, so taxpayers pay less for electricity every month.

In 2013, the Lake Stevens School District is taking that idea even further – and saving even more money.

The school has an energy specialist, Barb Ossowski, who trains teachers and staff how to cut energy costs.

Read the full KING 5 story here: Energy conservation spares Lake Stevens School District from cuts
Rep. Hans Dunshee
Here's the key passage from the story:

Since March 2010, the district has seen a 34 percent energy reduction, which amounts to about $1.5 million in savings. Instead of going towards utility bills, that money is used going back into classrooms. 

"Keeping money in our own pockets for our school and our children and that's what we're in the business for," said Ossowski. 

The effort has funded new textbooks, an AP class and spared teacher and staff positions from being cut. 

"We're also being good stewards of the environment," she said. 

The Lake Stevens School District was recently honored by the Environmental Protection Agency with an "Energy Star Award" for its energy efficiency, one of only four in the state with that distinction. 

For more about the state's efforts on green building, click here.

Read this story in Spanish here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Budget matters matter

Appropriations chair Ross Hunter
The Washington Budget and Policy Center thinks that the Budget Matters -- and they brought 300+ people together to talk about ways to move Washington's economy forward. Advocates, stakeholders, policy experts, and legislators participated in plenary and break-out sessions throughout the day. 
Deputy Majority Leader Marcie Maxwell
Several members of the House Democratic Caucus participated in panal discussions, including Ross Hunter, chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Marcie Maxwell, Deputy Majority Leader for Educationa nd Opportunity; Reuven Carlyle, chair of the House Finance Committee; and Laurie Jinkins, vice-chair of the House Health Care and Wellness committee.

Monday, December 24, 2012

It’s not big, it’s just…full

HDC members and staff will be taking some time off for the holidays. We’ll be stepping away from the blog and the website for a few days to be with our friends and family.

We hope you’ll be spending some quality time with your loved ones as well. Please be safe on the roads. If you haven’t already, bookmark the WSDOT page – it’s great resource for travelers.

Happy Holidays to all! And enjoy this clip from a great Christmas classic.

Testing, testing, testing......

How do we balance the need for accountability in our public schools -- in the form of standardized tests and strict graduation requirements -- with the cost that these things place on students, teachers, and school districts?  That is a question educators and legislators grapple with every session.

Washington state needs “exit” exams to ensure that every student who receives a diploma — no matter where he or she went to school — has the knowledge and skills expected of high school graduates. Students in the Class of 2012 were required to pass two exit exams. By the time this year’s 10th graders graduate, it will be five.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn recently said that he thinks that's overkill.  Rep. John McCoy, a member of the House Education Committee, agrees.  He has already introduced legislation for the 2013 session to reduce the number of student assessments -- and, thus, reduce the cost to schools. 

How much cost?  Exit exams are estimated to be $30 each. If students don’t pass one or more of these exams, the state provides other ways for students to demonstrate their abilities, such as the Collection of Evidence (COE). The COE is a portfolio of classroom work prepared by the student with instructional support from a teacher. The COE is currently $400 per student in each content area.

Here's more information on our state's testing system.