A few things in life are certain: death, taxes, and teachers’ union actions that fail to persuade the Legislature to give them what they want.
Washington’s public school teachers do have a legitimate bone or two to pick with state lawmakers, and we understand the frustration that led staff in some 65 school districts across Washington to hold or plan walkouts over school funding this spring.
But these teacher tactics never seem to work and won’t work magic this time, either.
First, on what planet do teachers expect lawmakers to come up with an “extra” $2.1 billion in new revenues to pay for the union-sponsored Initiative 1351, which mandated smaller classroom sizes? (Voters approved it last fall, apparently without understanding the price tag.)
Not even a skilled astral traveler, if there are any around, could rocket to such a revenue haven.
Teachers going on pseudo-strikes – walkouts scheduled with management on mutually convenient dates, which require make-up days at the end of the year – aren’t going to change that.
Lawmakers are already trying to increase school funding by about $1.4 billion in response to a Supreme Court ruling.
The political reality is that tax-averse Republicans control the Senate, and voters last fall rewarded GOP candidates running on no-tax platforms with pretty easy re-election victories against Democrats who didn’t make such promises.
On the other side are Democrats in liberal districts who control the House but – despite being friendlier toward the idea of raising revenues – aren’t keen to jack up taxes by the billions, even if it still makes sense to raise smaller amounts of new revenue.
As a compromise, House and Senate budget leaders are looking for a way to suspend the initiative with a two-thirds supermajority vote, while funding class size improvements in K-3 where research shows they have the most benefit.
Which brings us to a second point.
Gov. Jay Inslee and House Democrats have proposed spending about $150 million more than the Senate in order to increase the COLA for teachers and K-12 staffers to the level that most state employees hope to receive under collective bargaining agreements (3 percent this year, 1.8 percent in 2016). The Senate spends less, keeping teachers’ raises at the level of inflation.
The House approach makes better sense given that workers in both general government and K-12 schools have worked since 2008 without a general wage increase funded by the state.
The cost difference isn’t huge but it’s going to take new money, and cooperation from Senate Republicans – at least a few of them. So far, teachers’ actions have only inflamed the Senate GOP, and may make it harder to secure new revenues for teachers’ pay.
To show that annoyance with teachers, Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch sponsored an anti-strike bill he has recycled before. Senate Bill 6116 forces teachers to give up pay on days they “strike” by disallowing use of sick days or taxpayer funds for salary on those days. Not that they are getting paid anyway.
In one sense, the teachers and Legislature are now even-Steven. Lawmakers aren’t talking about how they’ll fund I-1351 under the law, and teachers aren’t talking about how they’ll uphold their contracts.
It’s fair to ask what the grown-ups plan to do.