How the McCleary decision is giving more money and power to the WEA union

By LIV FINNE  | 
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Mar 30, 2018

Recently WEA union president Kim Mead gleefully announced that public school employees will be getting double-digit pay raises.  The high pay, plus generous benefits, allows many public school employees to send their own children to private schools. 

Mead admits teachers just received a round of pay raises, but she tells her members more money is coming.  She says school employees can expect raises as high as 37 percent.  The public sector raises come at a time when many taxpaying working families have seen flat or declining incomes in recent years.

President Mead explains how the union secured access to more public money:

“We’ve spent years in the courts, at the ballot box and in the Legislature getting to this point.”

She is referring to the WEA union’s decade-long lawsuit campaign.  Union executives have used the public’s natural concern about local schools to increase taxes and funding, ostensibly to improve programs for kids.  Now we learn these new funds will instead be providing bigger incomes for union members, which in turn means more dues money for union executives like Kim Mead.  

In just the last decade, the money the WEA takes from public paychecks has grown by $8 million, rising from $29 million a year to $37 million today.

Since they filed the McCleary lawsuit in 2007, WEA union executives have spent millions in legal fees pursuing the case.  These costs were in addition to the union’s failed effort to close every charter school in the state.

So let’s connect the dots.  Over ten years ago, the WEA union filed the McCleary lawsuit claiming taxpayers are not adequately funding the schools.  Union executives diverted the money they take from teacher paychecks to pursue the case, devoting millions to push it to the state supreme court level.

At the same time, union executives use their members’ money to become major players in political campaigns to elect supreme court judges favorable to them.  Public disclosure of campaign spending is reported here and here.

The end result of the McCleary case was not so much about improving education for children, but in expanding the power and money of the union within the system.  As Kim Mead herself puts it, “Getting to this point” means big money for the schools and for the union.  Since 2007, state spending on school districts has ballooned from $13.28 billion to $22.69 billion, a 71 percent increase, with concomitant growth in the share of public money going to unions.

Washington families are seeing the impact in massive increases in their property tax bills, a rising burden that is reducing the take-home income of every household in the state.

Now we know where much of that money is going.

Instead of feeding a monopoly system that serves the financial interest of powerfully-entrenched union executives, policymakers should expand choice programs that let families direct learning resources in ways that best serve children.

For example, Running Start serves 26,000 high school kids who earn credits at a community or technical college.  (Last month, Senator Lisa Wellman, D - Mercer Island, sought to cut Running Start by $30 million a year, but her effort failed.)  Charter schools serve 2,500 students, and many of these popular public schools have waiting lists.  The same is true of after-school tutoring, online education and many other options available to families.

Unions don’t like choice programs because union membership is not mandatory for the teaching staff. Parents, however, like choice programs. That’s because parents, sensibly, are not interested in power and politics – they just want access to a good education for their children.

Expanding school choice would re-direct spending away from policies that enrich the WEA union and toward programs that focus on children, with key decisions being made by those in the best position to know – their parents.