Washington State Teachers Strikes Causing Rift


Across the state of Washington, thousands of teachers held the first of series of planned one-day strikes in an effort to increase their pay, receive better benefits, and reduce class sizes.

Almost 3,000 teachers in nine districts took part, forcing classes to be cancelled in two districts and a half-day in a third, said Rich Wood, spokesman for Washington Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state.

Reporting for Reuters, Victoria Cavaliere writes that other districts are voting whether to stage their own walkout in the near future. Teachers demands are being considered by the state Legislature, but teachers are displeased with a proposal to raise pay by 3% over two years, since the state has not increased teacher healthcare funding in five years, according to the union.

In a rally in Arlington, a town about an hour away from Seattle, teachers hit the picket line to tell lawmakers considering a public education budget of approximately $1.3 billion that they were underestimating the funding needed.

“It’s simply not enough,” said Larry Delaney, a math teacher at Lakewood High School and the district’s union president. “Benefits, pay. That’s an issue. But what resonates with our members is kids first,” he said.

Currently, the Washington Legislature is under state Supreme Court order to increase education funding by the 2019 school year. Teachers also want to get rid of a proposal to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Some parents were in support of the strike.

“We are standing by our teachers,” said Breana Pasowicz, 30, who has three children in public school and, like many parents, had to make arrangements to pick up students early from class. “It’s for smaller class sizes and them getting paid for teaching our children.”

More than 20,000 parents signed a petition last month supporting the use of test scores in teacher evaluations.

In Stanwood, Washington, teachers said they were not at odds with their students, parents, the community, or their district. They made it clear that their message was intended for the state’s legislators. Michael Konopasek of King 5 News reports that teachers were attempting to help their students understand what the strike was all about. Some discussed the possibility of addressing the issue in their civics classes.

An editorial for the Yakima Herald says that strikes are not the appropriate method to win over the Legislature. Their opinion is that although many teachers say the strikes are “for the kids”, most of the demands seem aimed at adults’ demands. Citing the vote last fall for a class-size reduction initiative, the editors point out that the measure provided no funding mechanism to pay for additional teachers and classrooms that would have been needed.

The strikes are aimed at getting lawmakers’ attention, but, say the writers, “lawmakers have long been zeroed in on the funding issue,” and that strikes hurt the ones whom educators profess to prioritize. The editorial calls the strike illegal, unnecessary, and disruptive.

Victoria Cavaliere of Reuters quotes a union leader:

“Instead of making the investment in public education that our children need and the Constitution mandates, the state Senate majority is lowballing the schools budget and passing bills that scapegoat teachers,” Shirley Potter, president of the Bellingham Education Association, said in a statement.