EducationWeek recently published an article on labor contracts for school districts in three states: California, Colorado, and Washington. All three have struggled with recent teacher strikes and now “will have to lay off hundreds of teachers and central office staff, increase class sizes, shutter after-school programs, and take other actions they warn will have devastating academic effects for years to come.”
Everyone in Washington knew this problem was coming. That includes the Washington Education Association (WEA), a union supported by education funding. Yet, the WEA still pushed for a massive pay increase that caused these problems.
To understand how we got here, one needs to step back a couple years. During the 2017 legislative session, in response to the McCleary court case, Washington State implemented an increase in state wide property taxes while capping local taxation. The intent was to keep poor districts from being left behind. However, this session, Senate Bill 5313 (which is sitting on the Governor’s desk) breaks the promises made by the legislature to keep local taxation low and reintroduces inequities in education funding. It does this by removing the cap on local levies.
Who gets hurt in this situation are the children, hard-working tax payers, and many new teachers and other school staff who may lose their jobs. The WEA union backs SB 5313 because it supports seniority pay raises and reassures lifetime job security. The union is fond of trumpeting how the bill will benefit children and families. But as Don Nielsen, senior fellow to Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education and author of Every School, states, “the mission of [a] union [is] to maximize member compensation, improve member working conditions, [and] to secure and protect member employment.” This isn’t just Nielsen’s opinion. It comes from a conversation he had with the WEA president years ago. These controlling interests will never be content with the great influx of money Washington has received. Washington State teachers earned double digit pay raises but this is never enough. They are back to playing the classic bait and switch game once again – protecting their self-interests while arguing “It’s for the children!”