Let's briefly take note of the fact that back in May, when school was suspended and Seattle teachers walked off the job for a single day, the Seattle School District and the local teachers union were singing a different tune. Superintendent Larry Nyland sent a note to parents reminding them that the walkout wasn't about the district—it was "a statement to the state legislature about the current lack of adequate state funding for basic education." The head of the Seattle Education Association went on the radio and emphasized that the district and the teachers agreed about this.
There was unity in hatred for Olympia.
Clearly, the relationship between the district and the union has soured since May, and there are vast differences in their positions on pay, standardized testing, and a range of other district-centric issues. But as Jen pointed out yesterday, the unconstitutional underfunding of Washington schools looms over all of this. And last night, the divide between those who believe in a robust public school system and those who don't give two shits about it, or want to see it replaced with a system of charter schools run by businesses and churches, could be seen even in the dimly-lit Seattle school board chambers, as the board voted on a resolution condemning the strike and giving Nyland the power to seek a legal injunction blocking the strike.
Only Sue Peters, who The Stranger endorsed in 2013, voted against the injunction-seeking resolution—out of seven board members. In an interview today, she said it sends the wrong message and, to boot, the teachers could choose to ignore an injunction anyway, as striking teachers did in Pasco earlier this year. "A sure way to end the strike is not with a court order," she said, "but with an agreement."
Peters never would have been on the board to begin with if billionaires Nick Hanauer, Steve Ballmer, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce's political arm had had their way. All of them poured money into her opponent's campaign coffers. Hanauer financed slimy attack mailers against Peters.
And while Peters was the lonely voice of dissent yesterday, the moneyed education "reformers" are surely scrambling to figure out their next move after a surprise blow to their efforts from the Washington State Supreme Court came late last Friday when the court ruled unanimously that public funds cannot be used for charter schools, effectively invalidating Initiative 1240. Washington voters had rejected charter schools three times, but in 2012, Initiative 1240 squeaked through. Here were the major donors to that campaign, according to the Washington Post:
*Microsoft founder Bill Gates, with more than $3 million
*Alice Walton of Walmart Stores (who, unlike Gates, doesn’t live in Washington state), with about $1.7 million.
*Entrepreneur Nicolas J. Hanauer of Seattle, with $1 million.
*Jackie and Mike Bezos, about $750,000. (They are the parents of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com and the owner of The Washington Post.)
"The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along," said Washington Education Association (the parent organization of the Seattle teachers union) in a statement last week. "Charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding."
And it is the Bezoses and the Ballmers and the big companies of the state (with the complicity of spineless Democrats like Frank Chopp) who have also fought efforts to create a progressive income tax (Hanauer and Gates, to their everlasting credit, supported those efforts), leaving us with the paltriest, most regressive tax system in the country.
"If the state did fully fund education, could we compensate district employees better? Absolutely," said Peters. "The district is stuck working with the budgets we have. So it comes down to priorities. I understand the teachers wanting fair compensation for the hard work they do... The numbers I have seen show that the district does not have all the resources to meet the financial demands of the union. And it's so frustrating to not to be able to pay for everything."
So, again, to underline Jen's point: If you're, say, the Seattle Times or the district itself, you can go around blaming the teachers for being allegedly greedy bastards. But if you keep your eye on what counts, you'll reserve your ire for the powerful 1 percenters who systemically defund and devalue our public schools, whose influence ranges from the state level right on down to our district, where, today, students are not in school and teachers are walking the picket lines.
This post has been updated.