Washington lawmakers passed a budget this summer that aims to fully fund basic education.
But some argue it may hurt teacher recruitment in more rural districts, where teacher attrition is high and the local pool of candidates is often small.
In Cowlitz County, school districts often recruit teachers from places as far away as Vancouver or Portland.
Longview Schools Superintendent Dan Zorn said he relies on hiring teachers from outside counties to fill the 450 teaching positions in his district.
But he worries the new state education budget could further hinder those efforts.
“In a lot of respects, it exasperates our challenges,” said Zorn.
That’s because part of the new funding plan is a bump in teacher salaries for districts with higher costs of living. Starting in the 2018-19 school year, a three-tier regional pay adjustment — ranging from 6 to 18 percent — will be added to teacher salaries where housing costs are above the state median.
For Clark County districts like Vancouver and Evergreen, that translates to a 6 percent raise. In the Camas School District, it’s as high as 12 percent.
But in Cowlitz County, that’s not the case because median home prices are too low.
“So we’re going to be funded at a lower level than those more affluent districts,” said Zorn, who equated it to a "rich getting richer" situation.
“I think there’s real potential for that salary gap-widening,” he said.
Zorn hopes to discuss the issue with local lawmakers and propose salary adjustments to the education plan next year.
In terms of funding, he’s also eyeing an upcoming school levy for maintenance and operational costs that Longview residents will see on the ballot in February.