Opinion

Our Voice: Union walkout wrong way to send a message to the Legislature

If you’re a parent of a public school student in the Tri-Cities, hopefully you have a contingency plan for Thursday.

Because the teachers won’t be coming to work.

Local teachers unions recently voted to approve a one-day walkout in protest of budgets proposed in the state Legislature for the next biennium.

The walkouts have been taking place across the state as teachers express their concern over funding for education, teacher pay and classroom sizes.

The Washington Education Association has spent a lot of time lobbying in Olympia for what they say is a repeated failure by the state to provide adequate funding for education. It organized rallies and ran an aggressive radio campaign. It was up to local unions to decide whether they would join the walkouts.

And while vote counts for the local unions here were strongly in favor of the one-day protest, it’s hard to tell just how many members voted. The vote was held on a busy day for teachers involved in extra-curricular activities, and union officials have not been forthcoming with the percentage of membership that actually cast a vote.

Parents are forced to find alternate child care, testing schedules have been disrupted, extra-curricular activities are in question and an additional day has had to be added to the end of the school year.

In effect, the teachers union is punishing students and families in their effort to get the attention of the legislators in Olympia. It seems that the majority of their angst is being felt by the wrong folks in this situation. In some other districts, the walkouts have been held after school hours, creating less of a hardship.

The teachers’ issues are with the Legislature, not their students and their parents and caregivers.

We understand the teachers’ point-of-view, just not their actions. They have valid reasons to complain. But lawmakers have a big task ahead of them, and it’s not an easy one. The Legislature couldn’t agree on a budget in normal session and are nearing the end of a 30-day special session.

The Legislature is grappling to increase dollars for education after the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling said Washington was not adequately funding education. That funding shortfall is across the board, from text books to teacher salaries to transportation. The state’s voters also approved an initiative — with a campaign largely funded by the teachers union — that requires smaller class sizes and, therefore, more teachers. But estimates are that it would take billions to implement, and lawmakers say there just isn’t the money for it as McCleary looms large.

Teachers say the proposed budgets by both the House and Senate are not adequate. But without new revenue streams proposed in those budgets, there are only so many dollars to go around.

Lawmakers and the union both deserve a scolding for how this has unfolded. But that’s no reason to take it out on students and families.

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