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New Stance

When a group of school advocates in Washington state announced last month that it wanted to get a $1 billion school funding tax plan on the November ballot, the state's largest teachers' union declined to get on board.

That was then.

Recently, the Washington Education Association shifted its position to get behind the package, which would reduce class sizes, help pay for all-day kindergarten, and provide financial support for teacher professional development.

The union decided to support the "Education Trust Fund" initiative after the advocates in charge of the proposal agreed to set aside $93 million in the package for teacher pay raises.

"Our initial reluctance is because we've been averse to taking risks at the ballot box," said the union's president, Charles Hasse. "We've expressed concern over the size and scope of the initiative; [however], a combination of factors led us to say we should roll the dice."

The 76,000-member affiliate of the National Education Association hoped for a revised proposal that would be more focused, but the addition of the teacher-compensation clause, which would raise teacher pay by 3.6 percent, addressed a key concern for union officials.

Teachers in Washington earn an average of $45,000 a year, but budget cuts led the legislature to suspend Initiative 732—which passed in 2000 and mandated annual cost-of-living increases for teachers—for two years.

The new initiative, which is being pushed by the League of Education Voters, calls for a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax in response to the continued drop in state education funding.

According to Lisa Macfarlane, the president of the league, growing budget pressures from health care, corrections, and federal mandates have run education funding into the ground.

"We're losing ground," said Ms. Macfarlane, who added that she welcomes the union's support. "Education funding has received a lot of lip service [in political circles], but there's been ... no action."

If the Education Trust Fund plan qualifies for the ballot and is victorious, the fund will provide 10,000 additional preschool slots for low-income families, 25,000 newly funded college enrollments, and $10,000 annual bonuses for teachers who work in high- need schools.

Supporters are hoping to collect the 190,000 signatures required by July 2 to qualify the initiative for the November ballot.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 23, Issue 27, Page 31

Published in Print: March 17, 2004, as State Journal

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