It's Time: Fund Our Schools, Support Our Teachers

 Last Friday, the parents of all local students recieved the following email from the Bellingham School District:
Please note this important change in next week’s school calendar: Due to an unforeseen circumstance, there is no school for all students in Bellingham Public Schools on Friday, April 24. This school day will need to be made up; the make-up day has not been determined yet. 
The Washington Education Association (WEA) is coordinating walkouts of teachers from some school districts to get attention about lawmakers’ failure to comply with the McCleary decision and state Supreme Court mandate to provide ample funding for K-12 education.
Some teachers’ associations in Whatcom County and Washington state have voted to participate. The Bellingham Education Association voted on Thursday afternoon, April 16 to join the walkout on Friday, April 24. Therefore, we will not be able to hold school on Friday, April 24. 
Friday, April 24 is now a no school day. Similar to an unplanned snow day, this day will need to be made up. To determine the make-up day, we will work closely with our labor associations and communicate as soon as it has been set. 
Regarding after-school activities or evening events on April 24: Your school will be communication with affected students and families if particular after-school events and activities are continuing or will be rescheduled. We have been in communication with the YMCA, which plans to host childcare at some school locations and camps on Friday, April 24; please contact the YMCA for details.
Please know this labor walkout is beyond the control of Bellingham Public Schools, and yet we are so sorry for the inconvenience this may cause. 
This isn’t about our school district, but is an effort by teachers’ associations to influence the Legislature. We agree that lawmakers have failed to fully fund K-12 education for too many years. The walkout is a political strategy that teachers’ associations are choosing to use. 
We will share more information about the make-up day as soon as it is available. 

When I read this email, my reaction was not one of dismay, or annoyance at having to find childcare for my children. It was one of support, and pride.

I grew up in a family that valued education. My mother, her mother and father, my stepmother, my closest aunt, and many other family members work in education and for as long as I can remember I have respected and highly valued the teachers who spend their days with our children.

Being a teacher can be a thankless job. It seems like the majority of the schools in this country are struggling - class sizes are large, and budgets are small. Teachers are certainly not paid the wages they deserve, and every teacher I know does work on their own time because it's the only way for them to be prepared and get their work done.

People become teachers because they care. Because they love children or they love to educate kids. So many teachers are selfless, wonderful people, and yet our support of the education system as a nation has never been up to par. The schools our children attend should be one of our highest priorities. This is where our children spend their days. This is where they learn academics, social skills, art, music, computers, and more. For many children, school is a safe place when other parts of their lives are not.

My kid's grandfather, Paul Hope, is the President of Washington Education Association Fourth Corner, representing approximately 4,800 teachers, faculty and support staff in public schools and technical colleges located in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan and Northern Snohomish Counties. He has been a teacher for 17 years and currently teaches physics and calculus at Mt. Vernon High School half time and works for the union half time. Well, that's not really accurate. He works much more than half time for the union, and it is clear that it is a passion. He has been actively involved in the union in a leadership capacity for 15 years. I admire him, and asked him to help me answer a few simple questions about the rolling walkouts happening across Washington State in the next week.

What do our teachers want?

Of course it is difficult for anyone to give a brief response to this question, but Paul tried his best. Washington has cut taxes on the wealthy, and thus, in order to balance the budget money has been drained from the school system. They have eliminated the Cost of Living Adjustment for teachers and made multiple salary reductions over the years. This means that rather than giving our teachers consistent or increased pay rates, they have reduced pay so that the Bill Gateses and Jeff Bezoses can keep more of their income.

The WEA and teachers are interested in having the legislature fully fund the McCleary decision, fully funding the elements of a basic, quality education for our kids, and none of the current proposed budgets do that. They also want the legislature to fund the class size initiative, which they are currently ignoring. These two measure are not extraordinary - they will bring us only to the national average in funding and class size. Educators are not asking for anything beyond reason - expecting our schools to be at the national average should go without saying. They are also interested in reducing the toxic amount of testing to focus on teaching our children instead of tests.

Why is it time for a walkout?

Some parents don't understand why a walkout is necessary. I have heard comments wondering why teachers couldn't do this on a Saturday or on their own time. But, as Paul said, the teachers' voices are just not enough on their own. They need to put pressure on the legislature, and gain public awareness of the fact that our legislators are abdicating their duties. In addition to funding issues, there are several measures in play that are intended to destroy the rights of teachers to bargain collectively. As parents, I believe that we cannot let this stand. These need to not be passed as laws. In Wisconsin, the people only moved AFTER the bad laws were passed, and in Washington the teachers are trying to have an effect BEFORE bad things happen.

Why do we have to have a makeup day?

I have heard a few parents upset about the fact that this missed school day will mean a makeup day, sometime between now and the end of school. This may mean adding an extra day on to the school year. By state law, our schools must offer students 180 days of instruction. It is black and white, and in my opinion a small inconvenience for a very, very important issue.

What can we, as parents, do to help and to support our teachers?

Social media in support is very helpful. Spread the word about what is happening and why - teachers do their jobs.
are not to blame, the legislature is to blame for not supporting education. To every parent with a child in public school, this should be something we are actively involved in. Stop testing the teachers and start funding them so that they can

Write to your legislatures - the people WE elected to represent OUR wants and rights as citizens. Tell them that education is important to us and deserves funding! Don't believe that there isn't enough money - tell them to find the money by adding a simple progressive wealth tax, or by closing existing loopholes. Washington is currently 44th in the nation in funding per dollar earned. Is this acceptable to you as a parent? It shouldn't be. Our teachers are struggling because we are not willing, as a state, to tax the wealthy to insure a good future for ourselves and our children. Taking away from kids and giving to the rich is not right. We need to fix this!

On Friday, there will be rallies in many areas. In Bellingham, teachers and supporters will be gathering at Depot Market Square from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm to show solidarity and make their voices heard. My Mother will be taking my kiddos down at 10:00 to hand out apples and show support. If you want to take your kids to support their teachers, you can meet my Mom (who is awesome, super friendly, and basically wonderful) at 10 near the goat statue. I may even try to sneak away from work for a bit to show my support. Teachers will be wearing red, you can wear school t-shirts too if you have them!

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