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Thousands Protest Against the Legislature on Class Size, Compensation

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Thousands of WEA members, parents and students rallied in downtown Seattle Tuesday to protest the Washington Legislature’s failure to fully fund smaller K-12 class sizes and professional pay and benefits for school employees.

Teachers and support professionals in Seattle, Mercer Island and Issaquah picketed in their communities and then marched with a police escort from the Seattle Center to Westlake Park. Peninsula teachers in Pierce County also walked out Tuesday.Strike one!

“It’s time for the Legislature to do its job. That means funding smaller class sizes in every grade, which voters approved and is now the law,” said Jonathan Knapp, Seattle Education Association president. “And we need competitive compensation to attract and keep committed, qualified educators in our schools.”

So far, educators in 57 Washington school districts have approved one-day strikes against the Legislature. The list is likely to grow. In Olympia, lawmakers are halfway through a 30-day special session, and they are making no progress on a budget deal. A second special session seems likely.

Educators’ concerns remain the same:

  • Both the House and the Senate budgets essentially overturn voter-approved I-1351, which requires the state to fund smaller class sizes in every grade level. That means most students would remain stuck in overcrowded classrooms.
  • While legislators likely are getting an 11 percent raise and an increase in health benefit funding, the Senate budget proposes a minimal 3 percent COLA for educators spread over two years, and no increase in funding for health benefits. (The House budget is slightly better on COLAs, and includes an increase in educator health care funding.)
  • Instead of focusing on funding, the Senate passed a controversial bill that expands the misuse of high-stakes standardized testing.
  • The Senate also has proposed a bill that would dramatically restrict local decision making in school districts. The bill prohibits districts from using levies to provide classes and programs beyond what the state funds, such as art, music and AP classes.Jessica Weston, a school psychologist in Seattle, said she was feeling “disillusioned, disappointed and underutilized” because of the bad policies and inadequate budgets legislators are proposing in Olympia.

_MG_9952“My caseload right now is over 1,400 students,” said Weston. “We don’t have time to do all the things we’re trained to do to help kids. That’s terrible. It feels like we’re going back to the 1960s!”

Even so, Weston and other WEA members said they were proud to stand up for their students and their profession, and they said they expected the Legislature to listen.

“It was an amazing day to be an educator,” Alison Bishop, a Seattle EA member, wrote on Facebook. On social media, #onedaywalkout was a popular hashtag.

The events made national news, including the Wall Street Journal. This KIRO TV story has video of the rally shot from a helicopter. Here is the KING TV story and the KOMO TV story.

Strike 3!

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