Teachers, students call for full education fundingCalling out lawmakers, hundreds from Mukilteo join school funding rally
As lawmakers in Olympia wrestle with how to fully fund public education, teachers and students in Mukilteo are joining educators statewide in reminding them that this is their last shot.
“We’re not just fighting for teachers now, but the teachers of the future,” said Dana Wiebe, president of the 995-member Mukilteo Education Association, whose daughter is studying at Western Washington University to become a teacher.
“I myself have gone to Olympia and met with legislators on this. We are doing this for the children in our classes. We’re really all coming together on this to make sure our legislators do what’s right and just.”
Lawmakers are working to comply with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that requires full funding of the state’s basic education system by Sept. 1, 2018. The court has said lawmakers must determine exactly how to do that and how to pay for it before this year’s legislative session ends in April.
The Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling declared the state isn’t fulfilling its constitutional duty to fund basic education.
In 2015, the Court determined the Legislature hadn’t made sufficient progress on funding basic education and held it in contempt, imposing a daily fine of $100,000, which is now nearing $60 million.
Families and friends in tow, more than 250 Mukilteo Education Association members – teachers and support staff from throughout the school district – joined hundreds of others from neighboring school districts March 9 for a school funding forum and rally at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish.
Mirina Tamayao, a senior at Mariner High School who represents her school on the district’s board, was one of five featured speakers during the rally. Tamayao called on lawmakers to find a way to pay for the smaller class sizes that voters asked for upon approving I-1351 in 2014.
“My school is incredible, but my classes are overcrowded,” she said, noting that Mariner has some 2,300 students. “My Algebra II Trigonometry class was filled to the brim. It was frustrating and overwhelmingly difficult to learn in that environment.”
Tamayao said she struggles with math, and large class sizes make it tough for teachers to provide one-on-one instruction.
“Our teachers do so much more than stand in front of a class and present lessons or grade papers,” she said. “They use every second of their time to help us not only with class work, but to mentor us throughout our entire high school career.”
Tory Kartchner, chair of Mariner’s math department, said teaching classes that are often as large as 33 students is draining and demoralizing.
“My working conditions as a teacher are my students’ learning conditions,” he said. “If the working conditions in a school are not strong, the learning conditions won’t be either.
“You cannot tailor an education if you have a ton of kids in the room, and the assembly line model of education where you just stand up and lecture doesn’t work for every kid. And today, students don’t need to memorize the quadratic formula like they used to, they need to understand how it works.”
Kartchner, who has two young children of his own, said the stakes of large class sizes are higher at the elementary level where students get the building blocks to future academic success. Lake Stickney Elementary School teacher Kali Dunton agreed.
“I have 25 kids and I’m teaching a split first- and second-grade class due to high class sizes, so my attention is always divided,” she said. “I am heartbroken every day because I leave here knowing I didn’t have the opportunity to sit down and be a caring adult to each one of my kids.”
Both Kartchner and Dunton said a shortage of new teachers paired with the public school system’s failure to compete with private sector pay results should make willing, qualified teachers that much more valuable.
“You can only be attacked for so long until you feel your job isn’t valued,” Kartchner said, noting the Senate Republican plan, SB 5607, removes the requirement for teacher certification, allowing an uncertified teacher to take over when supervised by a certified teacher.
“That’s a slap in the face,” said Kartchner, who is National Board certified. “It takes a lot of work to become a master teacher, and that’s what the National Board certification signifies. It made me a better teacher and I’m still improving. Most people coming straight out of college couldn’t do this. Taking away teaching requirements is yet another morale killer. It makes it feel like this isn’t a profession, but just a job.”
Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan, HB 1067, “is forward thinking,” Wiebe said, adding that the Senate Republican plan “aims to destroy public schools” by limiting collective bargaining, jeopardizing special education funding, eliminating requirements and incentives for teacher certification, and switching to a per-pupil allocation model that does not account for materials and support staff the way the traditional prototypical funding model does.
“The Senate Republican budget that came out really offended our teachers here in Mukilteo,” Wiebe said. “They proposed lowering the teaching requirements, which was also offensive to us. We want to have the best teachers in Mukilteo. That’s really been motivating my people to go and ask questions of their legislators.”
District spokesperson Andy Muntz said district officials share Wiebe’s concerns about state funding for teachers, considering a majority of locally raised levy dollars go toward salaries.
The district’s current maintenance and operations property tax levy accounts for 23 percent of its operating budget. In 2015, more than 85 percent of those levy dollars paid basic education costs, with more than 75 percent going to supplemental compensation to make teacher and staff salaries competitive.
Also on March 9, the state House voted to delay the so-called levy cliff that would have cut the amount school districts can raise through local levies. That would have forced the Mukilteo School District to cut $5.1 million from its budget next year.
That news hasn’t distracted educators statewide from the bigger, ongoing issue of full education funding. Wiebe said as long as lawmakers are in session, Mukilteo teachers will continue to email, call and write to them.
“Our students need us now more than ever to rise up and fight for them,” she said. “We plan to see this through to the end.”