Teachers in Southwest Washington took the day off Wednesday to protest state lawmakers’ funding of K-12 education.
More than 2,000 teachers in Camas, Hockinson, Evergreen and Washougal didn’t report to work and the districts canceled school.
The teachers say they’re protesting the lack of progress made by state lawmakers in Olympia to fully fund education.
Michelle Haverkamp, an occupational therapist who works with special education students in the Evergreen School District, joined dozens of teachers waving signs at the intersection of Chkalov Drive and Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver.
“I’m wanting our legislators to do their paramount duty to fund public education,” she said. “The voters have voted for legislation. They haven’t upheld their duty to fund it and our kids deserve it.”
Drivers honked in support as teachers waived signs that read “Good Schools Require Good Funding. Fund Public Schools” and “It’s Time To Fully Fund Our Schools.”legislature is in contempt of a court order from the Washington State Supreme Court over education funding.
Currently, the Legislature is several weeks into a special session, in part to address spending on schools. But budget negotiations are reportedly going slowly.
Rich Wood, a spokesperson for the Washington Education Association, said lawmakers are considering an additional $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion for schools to help meet the court order.
“That’s not enough,” Wood said. “The fact that we’re continuing to see these one day walkouts and strikes is an indication of how frustrated educators are with the lack of progress in Olympia in seriously addressing the true need.”
Beyond that, Wood said, lawmakers haven’t funded a cost-of-living adjustment for teachers in the last six years.
Voters approved the measure in 2000. But Wood said it’s been funded less than half the time it’s been around.
State lawmakers are debating proposals that would increase teacher’s pay between 3 percent and 4.8 percent over the next two years.
“It doesn’t make up the 13 percent lost in the last six years,” he said.
And he said it’s not clear whether lawmakers will grant teachers an increase in healthcare funding.
The one-day strikes began last month. So far, teachers in 49 districts around Washington have voted to strike, including in Longview and Seattle later this month.
After picketing intersections Wednesday morning, teachers from around Southwest Washington gathered for a rally in Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver.
Richard Mancini, a band teacher at Camas High School, said last year he selected a cheaper healthcare plan with higher premiums because his family couldn’t afford the monthly payments.
“Our coverage is a little less right now,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of buying power over the last six years.”
That sentiment was echoed by Gina Mariotti Shappard, an art teacher at Camas High School.
“I’m at the top of the teacher’s salary both in education and number of years of teaching and sometimes I feel like there’s no way for me to keep up with inflation and there’s no way for me to make any difference,” she said.
While teacher pay was a common theme at Wednesday’s rally, others spoke about class size.
In November, voters approved an initiative to reduce class sizes around the state by increasing staff. Lawmakers are debating whether to fund some grades or ask voters to consider the measure again.
Cory McEnry, a teacher in Hokinson, said he’s less concerned about teacher pay, but wants better working conditions.
“Smaller class sizes equal more effective teachers,” he said.
Teachers in the Vancouver Public Schools did not reach the 80 percent supermajority to protest during the school day.
But that didn’t stop Carly MacQuarrie, a third grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School from attending Wednesday’s rally.
“I took a personal day,” she said. “I thought it was important to be here.”
MacQuarrie said this year is the first time since she started teaching eight years ago that she’s making more money than during her first year of teaching.
“We took a 3.5 percent pay cut, our insurance has really gone up, our health benefits have really gone up,” she said.
MacQuarrie said she works a second job as a waitress to help support her family.
“It’s hard to make ends meet as a teacher, but it’s what I love to do,” she said.
Wednesday’s one-day teacher strike attracted educators from Oregon too.
“We deal with the same thing in Oregon where they’re continuing to underfund our schools,” said Gwen Sullivan, president of the Portland Association of Teachers. “Instead of funding our schools they like to blame teachers and parents and students for not doing our jobs and not doing the work so it’s just a systemic issue everywhere.”
When asked if she thought something like a strike over education funding could happen in Oregon, she replied, “I can only hope.”