Is Seattle Public Schools bargaining away class size reduction money?
Aug 16, 2018

Yesterday afternoon the WEA union held a rally outside the offices of Seattle School Superintendent Denise Juneau. She is negotiating a new teachers contract with union lawyers. The WEA is threatening to close Seattle schools with teacher strikes if Superintendent Juneau does not provide double-digit pay increases. She may be under pressure to bargain away class size reduction money.   

A week ago Senator John Braun, former Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, sent out some helpful guideposts for districts negotiating new teacher contracts. The best way to serve the public interest, says Senator Braun, is to do the following:

  1. K-3 class size reduction money should not be negotiated away;
  2. Do not grant salary raises that depend upon the Legislature increasing the local property tax limit; and
  3. Do not go on strike. 

Between 2009 and today, in response to the McCleary school funding decision, the legislature increased the state budget for schools from $12.9 billion to $22.6 billion. A lot of this money has already gone to increase the pay and benefits of teachers and other school employees. For example, official government reports show that in 2009 average teacher pay in Seattle was $68,676, plus $9,862 in benefits. Now, after these multiple funding infusions from the state, today in 2017-18, average teacher pay in Seattle is $77,239, plus $27,979 in benefits.  See our new Policy Note, here.

The WEA union’s budget has also grown, from $27 million in 2009 to $37 million in 2015, the most recent report available.

But half a billion dollars in the state budget was earmarked to reduce class sizes for students.  The legislature promised to provide this benefit to taxpayers, and even redefined basic education to require class sizes of 17 in grades K-3.  In 2017 Governor Inslee said the state budget included funds for “investing in smaller class sizes through 3rd grade,” to “give our kids a strong start.”

Now it appears the WEA union is targeting class size reduction funding for additional, double-digit pay increases.

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Yakima Valley school officials stand firm to protect funding for student programs
Aug 14, 2018

Last week The Yakima Herald-Republic reported Yakima School Superintendent Jack Irion is under pressure from the WEA union to divert funding intended for student programs to provide double-digit pay increases to school employees. To their credit, Superintendent Irion and the Yakima School Board are standing firm.

The Yakima School District is not alone. This summer officials at 250 of Washington’s 295 districts have been negotiating new contracts with school employees. WEA union executives have been holding rallies at local school districts around the state, demanding up to 21 percent pay increases for teachers and 37 percent pay increases for non-teachers. Union executives are threatening strikes to close schools this fall in Seattle, Kent, Kennewick, Evergreen (Clark), Washougal and Tacoma.

To justify these threats, WEA union executives rely on a number of claims. First, the WEA claims the legislature intended McCleary funding to provide double-digit pay increases. Second, the WEA union claims teachers are not fairly paid. Third, the WEA claims strikes are justified to close schools to force districts to deliver these pay increases.

I will briefly reply to each claim, one at a time.

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Hospitals Correctly Oppose "Medicare for All"
Aug 14, 2018

Hospital care accounts for over 30 percent of health care costs in the United States.Therefore, it might be of some interest to know where hospital administrators stand on the idea of “Medicare for All.”

The president of the American Federation of Hospitals (AFH) stated recently that he was “disappointed that … Democrats are going off on this tangent (single-payer).” The AHF represents investor-owned hospitals, but even the large 5000-member American Hospital Association (AHA) opposed the national “public option” in 2016.

To understand the hospitals’ position, it comes down to “follow the money.”

Medicare reimburses hospitals much less than private insurance. Depending on the procedure or patient diagnosis, the payment may be only 50 percent to 70 percent of what a private health plan would pay. In most cases, this lower reimbursement doesn’t cover hospital costs. In other words, hospitals couldn’t keep their doors open if all patients paid the Medicare rates.

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