by Judy Ferro
Teachers in 60 Washington school districts have voted for one-day strikes at a time when Idaho teachers are sounding more content than they have for years.
It’s no wonder that Idaho educators are grateful for the remarkable support that Idahoans have shown for schools this year.
Last week voters in 14 school districts approved $18.6 million in bonds and levies. Notus got the go-ahead to replace its 90-year-old elementary school; Marsing passed its first supplemental levy in forty years.
That was just ten weeks after voters in 36 Idaho school districts approved $107.8 million in levies and bonds.
Yes, voters in half of Idaho’s school districts voted this year to pay higher taxes to strengthen Idaho’s schools.
That’s on top of a 7.4% increase–$101 million–appropriated by this year’s legislature.
Wages will get only a fraction of that increase. Also included are funds for classroom technology, school Wi-Fi, teacher mentors, additional teacher training, and students’ tuition for dual-credit classes—plus basic funds for an estimated 167 new classrooms of students.
And, as Idaho Sen. Jeff Siddoway forcefully pointed out earlier this year, wage increases for teachers are important. Idaho is suffering a teacher shortage. A survey of 65 school districts last year revealed that only 10 had started the school year with certified teachers in every position. Last year, Idaho had 1,200 fewer teachers and 14,400 more students than in 2008. That means a heavier workload for nearly every teacher.
Worse, this is a national shortage. We can’t simply recruit teachers from other states. Across the nation, fewer students are becoming teachers at a time when large numbers of baby boomers are retiring.
Washington is one of the states with higher pay and smaller classes that regularly recruits from Idaho. So what’s with the crisis in Washington?
Earlier this year the legislature passed laws that will require hundreds of new teachers: full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes through the third grade; and new graduation requirements in science, foreign languages, and social studies.
This sent school districts scrambling to find for new teachers and additional classroom space.
But now, with the current school year entering its last month, the legislature has yet to come up with funding for the new requirements.
The Washington legislature has been in special session for over 30 days without producing a funding bill. Absurdly, legislators are negotiating in secret. Some say Republicans are proposing a $1 billion increase in funding, and Democrats are holding out for more. Others insist that isn’t the problem at all.
Well, it is a big problem for Washington schools. The estimated cost of the new requirements passed by the legislature is $2 billion—yes, $2,000,000,000. School districts do not have that kind of emergency funds.
Yet, legislators talk of a second special session while districts postpone issuing contracts and setting class schedules. Budget deadlines pass with districts still clueless to what state support they will receive.
So teachers across Washington are calling one-day “strikes.” Now, it’s obvious that one day does not make a real strike; the teachers are not even targeting the school boards that they must negotiate with. .
These “strikes” are demonstrations aimed at increasing public awareness and pressure on legislators to get their job done. (The Idaho legislature’s failure to protect child support collections the first time around looks like a molehill in comparison.)
Unfortunately, Washington’s turmoil could end up being Idaho’s problem. When and if funding becomes available, schools just across our border will be dangling smaller class sizes as bait as they trawl for hundreds of additional teachers.