Tens of thousands of students in Washington are out of school after multiple teachers unions around the state have gone on strike.
Washington law does not “permit or grant any public employee the right to strike or refuse to perform his or her official duties.” That has not stopped the teachers unions from doing so anyway.
In Seattle, 50,000 students were kept home from class today on what was supposed to be the first day of school. The Seattle Education Association has been on strike for four days, with hiring diversity and higher wages being their chief concerns.
“The staff should be a representation of the students in the school. That is the biggest thing,” Ibi Idowu, a special ed teacher in Seattle, told local media. “Kids need to see teachers that look like them. They need to have books that represent who they are. When we talk about being culturally responsive, that’s what it means. It’s not just saying that it’s demonstrating what that looks like,” she elaborated.
“The other thing is, of course, compensation, but especially for our lowest paid colleagues. One of the things we’re looking for is yes, we’re looking for an across the board percentage raise, but we’re looking for a solid dollar amount for our workers who are making the least, I think $6.50. That’s starting to move towards a living wage,” added a striking teacher, kept anonymous by the World Socialist Web Site.
“Seattle is such an expensive city, and I can’t imagine living on less than $25 an hour. I wouldn’t want less than $30. And even then, $25 or $30 might get you a room somewhere in the city, but it is not going to get you enough to have a family with kids.”
If a person making $30 an hour were to work eight hours a day for five days every week, they would make more than $62,000 per year. The lowest possible salary in Seattle Public Schools, which would be earned by a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience, is $63,180. The Center Square reported that more than 40% of Seattle teachers earn over $100,000 per year — a figure higher than Seattle’s median household income of roughly $97,000.
However, the tumult in Seattle has proven contagious, as teachers unions in several other districts have gone on strike. Teachers in Eatonville, south of Tacoma, have been on strike since September 7th as they seek smaller class sizes and higher wages. Paraprofessionals in Tumwater declared that they receive “poverty wages” ($20 per hour) and announced their intention to strike until they get a raise. Similar strikes have also occurred in Ridgefield, Kent, and (very briefly) Port Angeles.
“We saw what not being in person did to our kids during COVID so being in person and having the teachers who know what they’re doing- we need that to happen as soon as we can,” said Daria Supp, whose elementary school-aged children attend Seattle schools. When the strike occurred, she panicked and rushed to help the local Boys & Girls Club.
Indeed, Washington children did suffer during the pandemic, and the latest round of test scores reflect that.
In Seattle, 48% of high schoolers tested below the proficient level for math even before the pandemic. In Eatonville, that number was barely 30%. And since the COVID-19 pandemic, test scores for Washington students have consistently plummeted.
“Without in-person interaction, it becomes exponentially more difficult to identify learning delays, mental health issues and abuse,” said the Baylor College of Medicine. Additionally, studies from as far back as 1990 have found that teacher strikes have long-term negative effects on student achievement.
Despite these risks, Washington’s teachers unions are pressing on. It is unknown at this time if the teachers unions will spend any new revenue on luxury hotels, expensive cars, and overseas vacations.