The Washington Education Association brought more than 1,000 activists to the Olympia for a rally on the Capitol steps today. Union president Mary Lindquist, who is handing over the reins of the teachers union to Everett activist Kim Mead, said they brought 23 busloads of union members from WEA’s convention in Bellevue.
Lindquist outlined three messages for the Legislature as it goes into special session – money for class size reductions, money for cost-of-living pay raises for teachers, and action to raise tax revenues.
“We’re going to go into special session and we’ll be down here pounding on their doors every day,” Lindquist said in an interview, adding that if only budget leaders are in Olympia then the union’s tactics will adjust. “If they are in their homes we’ll be talking to them in their home (districts). If they are here we’ll be going to their offices.’’
Gov. Jay Inslee was helped to election last fall by the WEA and other labor groups’ endorsements, and he’d campaigned on using a growing economy, elimination of tax breaks and government efficiencies to come up with more than $1 billion in new money for public schools to answer the Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case.
Inslee now is supporting more than $1 billion in new tax revenues including making permanent the Legislature’s temporary tax surcharge on service businesses enacted in 2010 and that is supposed to expire in June. The Democrat showed up for the rally and repeated his support for getting more revenue.
“Our paramount duty in this state is to kids – not to tax breaks,” he said to cheers.
A gallery of rally photos shot by photographer Tony Overman is posted here.
Inside the Capitol, House and Senate members were going through the motions Saturday – passing a few bills but not pushing hard toward adjournment of a 105-day special session on Sunday. That is because they know Inslee is calling them back at some point for a 30-day special session to finish their two-year budget.
The Republican-steered Senate and Democrat-controlled House are at loggerheads on whether to raise taxes – with the 23 GOP and two Democratic members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus so far wedded against any new taxes. .
Rally-goers held signs that called for reductions in class size on one side, and cost-of-living pay raises on the other. The House budget, which relies on $1.1 billion more in tax revenue than current law would provide, puts money into class size reductions at the lower grade levels, but not the COLAs, which Initiative 732 would assure. The Senate budget does neither.
Rallies don’t change lawmakers’ minds, and many Democrats – including Speaker Frank Chopp of Seattle, Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater, Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia and first-year Rep. Monica Stonier, who teaches school in Vancouver – were on hand to show they already support at least part of the WEA’s positions.
Stonier spoke to the crowd about the need for resources. But she had voted against both the House Democrats’ budget and a $900 million tax package. Asked about it later, she said in an interview that she is taking the position of her legislative district on taxes and thinks the continuation of temporary business taxes breaks a promise to voters. But Stonier said she is open to ending tax breaks that are “outdated” or not producing a public benefit.
Among the activists at the rally were Conni Van Hoose, president of the North Thurston Education Association in Lacey, and Mary Nairn, who teaches at Thurston’s alternative school, South Sound High School.
“The intention really is to draw attention to fully funding education,” Van Hoose said.
Nairn said smaller class sizes at South Sound “make a difference for the kids.’’
Andrea Redmond, a para-educator from Seattle, said she works full time but with two small children she finds it is a struggle to get by. “We definitely need to have our pay reflect inflation. I’m living in poverty raising two small children,” she said.
Redmond said smaller class sizes also are needed but that can be complicated in cases where schools are being closed through consolidations.