Camas teachers and community members on strike. (Camas Education Association)
About 2,000 teachers across Vancouver-area school districts began the school year on strike.
State lawmakers wish this wasn’t the case.
Republican Sen. Lynda Wilson of Vancouver pointed out that teacher strikes in Washington are illegal, which is true — although there aren’t really any penalties. Mercer Island Democrat Sen. Lisa Wellman, who chairs the chamber’s Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said she’s “not happy about any strikes anywhere.” Sen. Brad Hawkins of Wenatchee, who is the education panel’s top Republican, said “teacher strikes are bad for everyone involved.”
And Vancouver Democrat Rep. Monica Stonier, who is on strike as an educator in Evergreen Public Schools — and voted for the strike — said “teachers don’t want to go on strike.”
But what separates Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the issue is simple: Republicans like Wilson and Hawkins believe teachers should never go on strike. Democrats like Wellman and Stonier see strikes as one of the few options teachers have to make their voices heard.
“We have to use our organizing as a strategy to advocate for what we know kids need,” Stonier said from the picket lines.
On teacher salaries
Teachers at Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver and the neighboring Camas School District are striking over wages, securing more planning time, staffing levels and other issues.
Camas teachers may return to classrooms soon. Negotiating teams there reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday. The union has a vote planned for Thursday on whether to approve the deal. If they do, the strike will end.
Stonier believes funding provided by the Legislature still isn’t keeping up with the cost of living.
“Teachers find it difficult to take leave or buy a home in the communities they teach in,” Stonier said.
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And Wellman said teachers deserve more respect for the work they do, particularly after dealing with pandemic-related disruptions.
“I think the only way we will continue to have teachers in our public education system — which for me, is the bedrock of democracy — is if we show them respect and provide them with the tools that they need to do a great job,” Wellman said.
However, Hawkins said the Legislature has provided substantial funding, including for teacher salaries, and he “doesn’t want the school districts coming back to the state to say we haven’t.”
“As a state legislator, former school board member, and parent of two children in public school, I strongly believe the state is providing plenty of funding,” Hawkins said. “I also believe teachers are fairly compensated, much more generously than some years ago.”
Holding districts accountable
State lawmakers said that while they can offer funding to incentivize local school officials to prioritize certain issues — like recent allocations aimed at reducing class sizes — they rely on the districts to spend the money allocated by the state wisely.
“It’s a balancing act and much of this still comes down to prudent fiscal management by the district,” Hawkins said.
Washington lawmakers recently sent $417 million dollars to special education, but teachers on the picket line say they haven’t seen the money trickle down yet.
Wilson said the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction should be holding districts accountable for where that money is going — and she said she’s been asking OSPI for answers about this for the last several months.
Wellman said she plans on having discussions with the school districts where teachers are on strike over where their funds are going.
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