Op-ed from Rep. Terry Nealey: Teacher strikes misguided in midst of historic funding boost

I’ve been a lifelong supporter of local schools and recognize the important role teachers play in our communities and shaping the lives of our students. Our teachers are dedicated, hardworking and deserve a living wage.

I also understand the concerns and frustrations teachers have brought to me.

They are among the many working people in our state who have had to tighten their belts and go without pay increases as our economy endured, and recovers from, the recession.

That said, it’s very disappointing some teachers have chosen to walk out of their classrooms and strike at a time when state lawmakers are writing an operating budget. While final details have not yet been worked out, one thing is certain: Schools and teachers will emerge as the winners in the final budget plan.

The House, controlled by Democrats, and Senate, controlled by Republicans, are proposing to make the largest investments in K-12 education since the early 1980s — including pay increases for teachers.

Both chambers also want to invest about $1.3 billion in response to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, including increased funding for K-3 class-size reductions, full-day kindergarten, and maintenance, supplies and operating costs.

It’s important to remember teacher strikes are illegal under state law. RCW 41.56.120 says: “Nothing contained in this chapter shall permit or grant any public employee the right to strike or refuse to perform his or her official duties.”

A 2006 state Attorney General opinion affirmed this state law.

Some of you have contacted me with your concerns about teachers claiming they are striking “for the kids,” when really their actions are negatively impacting kids and families. I understand why you would be upset.

We want teachers to be engaged in the legislative process, but they don’t need to strike to get their points across. There are many ways to make a difference in our citizen Legislature, including writing letters, sending emails, making calls, attending town hall meetings, participating in telephone town halls and commenting on bills online.

Many of you have utilized these opportunities because you couldn’t miss work or travel to Olympia.

I often get asked and you may be wondering: how much does an average teacher make? This information is public record and can be found at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website.

For context, the average teacher in the Walla Walla School District makes $60,469 and receives $10,076 in insurance benefits each year.

In addition to context, facts are important when we consider public policy. That’s why it’s disappointing misinformation is being spread by the teachers’ union — the Washington Education Association.

For example, the WEA claimed Senate Republicans voted to shortchange pay and benefits for teachers and school staff. In fact, the Senate operating budget would provide a cost-of-living adjustment for teachers and school staff.

Another claim by the WEA was Senate Republicans voted to increase class sizes — even for kids in high-poverty schools. Not mentioned by the WEA: The Senate capital budget would build more than 2,000 classrooms to reduce class sizes for our youngest students.

State lawmakers are earnestly working to make historic investments in K-12 education that would directly benefit schools and teachers.

Our teachers have the right to be heard, and let me assure you the Legislature is listening.

They do not have the right, however, to walk off the job. There are effective ways to communicate with state lawmakers without leaving students behind and going on strike.

Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, represents the 16th Legislative District.

State Representative Terry Nealey, 16th Legislative District
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000