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Walking to Where, Exactly? 

Publisher's Note

To walk, or not to walk? That's the question Spokane public schoolteachers have been wrestling with since their union, the Washington Education Association, asked them to make a big, bold statement about education funding. If a walkout is the plan (the decision is being revealed after my deadline), I don't think it will help.

click to enlarge mcgregor.jpg

The very foundation of the walkout is shaky. The mantra we hear is that the legislature is abdicating its responsibility to education. Sorry, but that's just not true. In fact, the budget currently being hammered out in Olympia will add somewhere between $1.3 and $1.4 billion to K-12 education; a cost-of-living pay increase (perhaps even more than that) is being added, too. Some are calling it the richest education budget in state history. Are they protesting that as not enough?

Granted, it's not passed yet, which raises another tactical question: Republicans are supporting massive spending increases and your plan is to antagonize them? It also throws some of education's best friends in Olympia (aka Democrats) under a big, yellow school bus.

Yes, the legislature has struggled with funding — there has been no state-funded pay increase for seven years. But remember, there was this thing called the Great Recession. The state is required to have a balanced budget, and there simply was no money; we've been playing catch-up on many fronts since those hard times.

Walkout proponents point to Initiative 1351, calling for hiring massive numbers of new teachers, as proof of Olympia's failures. But let's clarify: Voters supported the idea without any idea of cost, so it's more civic wish than serious policy. Citing 1351 as some kind of clear mandate is playing some pretty disingenuous politics.

Teachers do have valid concerns, but will the walkout broadcast them? Occupy Wall Street was at its best when it protested income inequality; when it became a laundry list of all that ails America, it lost support. Teachers will need to articulate what it is they are walking for.

So would it be to protest the lack of action on 1351? (I'm not hearing much of that.) Will it be to bemoan too much testing? (Now there's an issue worth discussing.) Or is it really just self-interest — you know, to get a raise? (Almost a done deal, walkout or not.) I fear we'll get the same old lame, fact-free talking points — more of a farce than a real force for change.

Consider that all this is prompting criticism from people like me, a proponent of supporting education however we can. Our schools and teachers are set to gain from this session. I just hope they don't lose even more. ♦

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