Classrooms across Washington state sat empty this week, as teachers in seven districts went on strike when negotiations over salaries and benefits failed to result in contracts by the first day of school.
Seattle public schools aren’t scheduled to start until Sept. 5, but teachers there also voted to strike if a contract deal is not reached between the local union and the state’s largest school district. The union is demanding higher salaries, more professional development for paraprofessionals, and health-care benefits for substitute teachers, reports the Seattle Times.
Teachers in the Camas school district, which enrolls about 7,000 students and is just across the border from Oregon, are also planning to strike if they don’t end contract negotiations before Sept. 3.
Washington is the latest in a handful of states to see widespread teacher labor actions. This spring, teachers in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia walked out of their classrooms over pay and benefits.
Driving these latest strikes is an additional $2 billion in the state budget for teacher salaries, money allocated after a 2012 state supreme court case, McCleary et al., v. State of Washington.
In that case, the court found that Washington was not adequately funding public education. In the years following, the state funneled millions of dollars into schools, and it planned to raise teacher salaries by the 2019-20 school year.
But the court said that the timeline for teacher raises didn’t meet the requirements in the McCleary decision. The court ordered the state to find the money to increase teachers’ base salaries by the fall of 2018. To meet that deadline, the legislature changed the state tax structure to provide an additional $81 million to districts.
Now, the unions want to see that money distributed to teachers.
With new state funding available, this moment is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to negotiate for higher compensation, a spokesperson for the Washington Education Association told KGW-TV, a local NBC affiliate in Portland, Ore.
Public-employee strikes are illegal in Washington state, but there are no laws that set penalities for participation.
Among the districts on strike, Battle Ground, Longview, Vancouver, Hockinson, and Ridgefield public schools had all been scheduled to start school today, while Evergreen public schools and the Washougal school district would have started school yesterday.
As teacher labor actions continue into this fall, it’s clear that discontent about compensation and school funding continues to be an issue in many places. Beyond Washington, the Los Angeles’ teachers union is currently conducting a strike-authorization vote, which could lead to a strike in the coming weeks.
Educators in Washington last went on strike in 2015, when the Seattle teachers union walked out over salary, length of the school day, testing, and teacher-evaluation policies. Teachers won cost-of-living salary increases, an end to student test scores being used as teacher-evaluation tools, and daily recess for all elementary school students.
Photo: About 2,000 teachers and school employees spill out of Benaroya Hall after voting in a union membership meeting to authorize a strike over wage increases on Aug. 28 in Seattle. —Rebekah Welch/The Seattle Times via AP.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.