This morning Carleen Johnson of KOMO News Radio interviewed me because of the spreading teachers strikes in Washington, now affecting 80,000 students in 14 school districts. Teachers union executives are calling on the legislature for pay raises, so knowing what teachers are paid now is basic to covering these strikes.
Executives with the state’s powerful Washington Education Association (WEA) union announced last week they plan to expand school closings by calling a strike for May 6th in the Lake Washington district, bringing to eleven the number of school districts subject to union action. The latest announcement will empty classrooms for the day of about 25,760 students, increasing to 70,000 the number of students affected by shuttered public schools.
Parents in Arlington scrambled yesterday to make alternative arrangements for their children as a strike called by teacher union executives closed local public schools. Union leaders in Conway and Anacortes also announced plans to strike, bringing to ten the number of districts where local schools closed to students.
Union executives in eight Washington public school districts have called for strikes starting this week in an effort to pressure lawmakers in Olympia to direct more money to increases in teacher pay and benefits. The call was affirmed by votes of union membership.
Last week National Public Radio interviewed Jonathan Johnson, the founder of the Rooted School, a new charter school opening in New Orleans. Mr. Johnson’s high school program will prepare students for the 7,000 tech-sector jobs predicted to arrive in Louisiana. Mr. Johnson believes students need more options than college. The Rooted School will offer a small-school environment to prepare students for a technical career, in addition to getting ready for college.
The Senate and House proposed budgets for 2015-17 take sharply different approaches to solving the problem of rising tuition at Washington’s public institutions of higher learning. Starting under Governor Gregoire, the state cut funding for public colleges and universities, while at the same time telling administrators they could impose large tuition increases. The increased burden falls hardest on middle–class families trying to gain access to college for their children leaving high school.
State lawmakers are debating the merits of an idea called the “levy swap,” in which Olympia would take the money people now pay in local school taxes and redistribute it statewide, while in turn reducing the taxes people pay to local school districts. Still, most parents would likely be upset if they found out the taxes they voted for local schools were going to Olympia instead.
Senator Michael Baumgartner (R- Spokane) has introduced SB 6079, to allow families that choose to receive up to $5,000 of the average $7,400 in public money the state spends per child. Parents can use the money to access educational services for children at public or private schools. SB 6079 would help lawmakers fulfill the key purpose of education funding, to meet the paramount duty of providing for the education of every child residing in the state.
Hundreds of excited parents and students gathered early Saturday for a lottery to select students to attend a new charter public school to open in Tacoma this fall. SOAR Academy, the first elementary public charter school in Pierce County, will provide kindergarten through 8th grade for schoolchildren. The school received 234 applications for 124 available slots in kindergarten and first grade. Principal Kristina Bellamy-McClain drew at random from a drum to select student names.
The levy-swap concept, in which state lawmakers would take local levy funds in return for lower local property tax rates, is being debated in Olympia as one way to increase state funding for public education under the McCleary decision.
Senator Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood) has released a new edition of his Washington White Board video series, arguing that state officials pay entry-level public school teachers so little they qualify for public assistance. Senator Liias has also introduced a bill to create a state income tax.
This week, always-thoughtful Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), Chairman of the House Finance Committee, released an interesting paper discussing state and local funding of the public schools. He notes that for 40 years, Washington has pursued a “state funded” education system, where most tax dollars are sent to Olympia to be distributed back to local schools, and small added local levies are intended to pay for modest enhancements.