Budget & Finance

Washington Teachers Plan Strikes to Protest State K-12 Funding Proposals

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 20, 2015 2 min read
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Teachers at eight districts in Washington state plan to hold one-day strikes to highlight their disapproval of state lawmakers who are gridlocked over the budget for public schools, as legislators and Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, try to solve one of the trickiest school finance quandaries in the country.

The teachers haven’t yet set a date for their strikes, but they say they’re motivated in part by state lawmakers’ push to send a voter-approved class-size initiative back to the public for further consideration. Last year, Evergreen State voters approved Initiative 1351, which set a class limit of 15 to 17 students in K-3, and 22 to 25 students in grades 4-12, and was also designed to increase overall funding for schools by the state.

But legislators have balked at funding K-12 to the levels required to meet the provisions of the initiative. In fact, the state Senate’s approved budget would require sending 1351 back to the voters to clarify whether they want the additional $2 billion in state funding to reduce the class sizes as required. Budget proposals in the legislature would increase K-12 spending by between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion. The session is due to wrap up April 26.

Class size isn’t the only issue on the mind of the teachers planning to strike, however. They’re also seeking better benefits and higher cost-of-living pay increases than what legislators are offering. And the Washington Education Association is backing the teachers in the eight districts pretty vocally:

Complicating matters is the state Supreme Court, which last year ordered lawmakers to significantly increase K-12 spending in order to satisfy the court’s 2012 decision in McCleary v. Washington that the state was underfunding schools in violation of the state constitution. The court held the legislature in contempt last September, but decided to hold off on any sanctions until lawmakers completed the 2015-17 biennial budget and got a chance to demonstrate their plan for satisfying McCleary (one of the key measurements for satisfying the ruling is a reduction in class size for K-3).

State Superintendent Randy Dorn has also weighed in, and put pressure on lawmakers in the process, by proposing his own “complete plan” to satisfy the McCleary ruling. Dorn’s plan calls for $2.2 billion in total new spending.

The Seattle Times editorial board, however, says the teachers’ unions are simply being greedy and failing to appreciate that $1.3 billion in new spending toward full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, and pay hikes for teachers is a “massive, meaningful investment.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.