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After Weeks of Teacher Strikes, Wash. State Students Are Back in School

Tacoma-teacher-strike-blog.jpg

After three weeks of teacher strikes dotting the state of Washington, students in all districts are back in school. 

Teachers in the Tacoma and Battle Ground districts returned to school today after settling contract agreements last week and over the weekend. Teachers in the Tumwater district are expected to return to work tomorrow, after voting today to ratify their tentative agreement with the district. 

In 14 school districts across the state of Washington, teachers went on strike this fall over contract disputes stemming from an influx of cash districts had received from the state. The state had awarded $2 billion to districts to go toward teacher salary increases, a result of a 2012 ruling from the state supreme court. That ruling—known as the McCleary decision—found that the state was not amply funding schools. Since then, the state has poured billions of dollars into public education. It was required to fully fund teacher salary increases by this year.

Teachers across the state negotiated new contracts with their districts, and in many cases, received double-digit pay increases. Still, some teachers had to go on strike to get there: In Tacoma, for instance, teachers received an average 14.4 percent pay raise, according to the News Tribune. Before the strike, the district had offered a 3.1 percent raise. And in Tumwater—where teachers defied a judge's order to return to the classroom last week—teachers will receive a 16.7 percent pay raise this year and a 2.4 percent pay raise next year. 

On social media, teachers applauded the resolution of the strikes. But in a blog post, Nate Bowling, a high school teacher in the Tacoma district and the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year, apologized to the 29,300 students in the district.

"Adult issues kept you out of the classroom where you belong," he wrote. "That's an injustice and there's no way to spin that. There shouldn't have been a strike. I found the last two weeks mind-numbingly frustrating because it was preventable."

The district, he wrote, should have offered a fair contract from the beginning of negotiations. And young teachers need to feel valued for their work instead of having to work multiple jobs, he added. 

"Despite reaching a contract agreement, I have lingering concerns about our ability to retain many of the great teachers we have," Bowling wrote, adding that he hopes the school district will rebuild trust with its teachers and the community this year.

Meanwhile, teachers in Los Angeles are preparing for a strike that could come next month. Teachers voted to authorize a strike earlier this month, and since then, the district and the teachers' union have not made progress with negotiations. Union members have said that the strike could be in October. 

Image: Tacoma teachers are jubilant throughout the meeting at Mount Tacoma High School where they voted to accept a new, improved contract and end their strike on Sept. 14. —Peter Haley/The News Tribune via AP
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