Teachers give Legislature poor grade at Capitol rally

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - Teachers from around the state converged on Olympia today to deliver a combination math and social studies lesson to state lawmakers:  failing to pass a budget that improves pay for teachers equals poor quality for students.

About a thousand members of the Washington Education Association, including dozens from the Seattle area, spilled across the capitol steps in a sea of red to get the attention of lawmakers who haven’t come to a budget agreement even though the legislative session ends tomorrow.

They want a budget to provide more teachers to reduce class sizes, which they say will let them give their students more attention.

Katharine Testin teaches two French classes at different levels at West Seattle High School – at the same time. She says it’s rewarding, but hard to help each student the way she’d like to.   

“Five classes, 30 kids in a class..150 kids over the course of the day… It becomes more and more difficult to get to know each kid,” she said.

And teachers say it’s about time for a raise, too.  Lawmakers have put off cost-of-living adjustments for teachers for six years.  The president of the Seattle Education Association says that makes it hard to recruit top talent.

“We need to set up an environment so that new folks coming into the profession can have confidence that they can build a career and have a livelihood that can support their families,” said SEA President Jonathan Knapp.

Gov. Jay Inslee cheered on the teachers, saying it’s time to stop asking them to make sacrifices and time to start giving them the tools they need to succeed.  He scoffed at GOP refusals to consider ending some tax breaks to raise money for schools.

“There is a right and wrong way to get money into schools and we know that,” Inslee said.  “We know we need to choose closing tax breaks and putting money into schools. That is the right way to finance education.”

But it looks as though teachers will have to wait to find out what lawmakers will do.  There’s a billion dollar difference between the budgets passed by the House and the Senate.  House Democrats want to raise taxes and use it for schools.  Senate Republicans say new taxes are a deal breaker. And with the regular session of the Legislature set to end Sunday, it appears a special session is all but a certainty.