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Seattle Teachers Stage Walkout Over Funding

teacher-strike-500px.jpg

Thousands of teachers took to the streets of downtown Seattle May 19 as part of a one-day strike over school funding in Washington State. 

The state teachers' union said some 6,000 teachers and support staff participated. And the action isn't limited to Seattle: Some 60 other districts have taken or plan similar walkouts, the Associated Press reported.

Teacher pay, of course, is one of the main sources of the discontent; teachers in the state are unhappy about a proposed 3 percent raise over two years. (Washington state has a statewide salary schedule that individual districts and their unions can supplement.) But that's not the only trigger: Deeper school-funding issues in Washington State have been brewing for a while.

In 2012, the state Supreme Court ordered the legislature to reform the state's financing formula and increase K-12 pupil aid. Lawmakers have increased K-12 funding since then, but not enough to satisfy the court, which held the state in contempt of the ruling in 2014. And as my colleague Andrew Ujifusa reported recently, deep divides remain over whether to raise additional aid via capital-gains taxes or other means.

Add to that a 2014 voter-approved referendum to hire more staff to reduce class sizes that has yet to be funded, and the bottom line is that teachers seem to be pretty mad over the state of funding.

"Parents and voters need to know that legislators are cutting deals right now that will leave our kids far behind," the Seattle Education Association said in a statement to Reuters. "A strike is far from our first choice, but we can't allow the legislature to continue to fail our kids."

An interesting corollary to the walkout, the AP reported, is that state lawmakers yesterday held a hearing on a bill to withhold salaries from teachers when they strike. Mostly Republican lawmakers appear to support the measure, while Democratic committee members walked out before the hearing started.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group that tracks state policies on teaching, says that Washington State teachers don't have legal right to strike, although it clearly still happens in the state.

Photo: Several young students take over playground equipment at Westlake Park as teachers in Seattle marched May 19 to demand more money for K-12 education. —Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times/AP

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