With the Seattle teachers strike suspended, public-education advocates hope to harness the outpouring of support for teachers toward the effort to boost state education spending.
While Seattle teachers and district officials were still deep in negotiations Sunday, a small group of parents gathered at a Phinney Ridge coffee shop to discuss the underlying issues of the strike that had delayed the start of school.
The strike was happening, in part, because the state wasn’t fully funding public education, the parents agreed.
“The strike had a huge amount of parental support, and then more people started talking and saying ‘Oh my God, the real underlying problem is the state isn’t doing its job.’ A lot of parents weren’t aware of that,” said Rebecca Vaux, a parent of two Seattle students and one of the half-dozen people at the coffee shop.
They talked about parents’ and community members’ new awareness surrounding education funding, and what they could do to lobby Olympia. At the table that day, someone suggested forming a Facebook group called Washington’s Paramount Duty, named after the provision in the state constitution that says providing ample funding for public schools is the state’s primary responsibility.
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They weren’t expecting a large turnout.
“We just started moving on it, and it exploded,” said Eden Mack, another member of the group’s steering committee.
In three days, about 1,400 people have signed up. And now, with the strike suspended and school starting Thursday, the grass-roots group is planning its next move.
“We all talked about how this is a great moment to harness our energy to get everybody really focused,” Vaux said.
The state is already feeling pressure. Not only did it lose a major school-funding lawsuit in 2012, known as the McCleary decision, it now must pay fines of $100,000 a day for failing to even come up with a plan for raising education spending to the level the McCleary ruling requires.
That decision grew out of a lawsuit filed in 2007 by a large consortium of parents, school districts, local teachers unions and community groups.
The parents in the coffee shop weren’t the only ones to realize that the Seattle strike, while a local affair, helped raise awareness of what isn’t happening in Olympia.
“What we learned during the strike, or what was re-impressed on us during the strike, is that the system is not at its healthiest point,” said Stephanie Jones, a parent who isn’t involved in Paramount Duty, but leads Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle, a nonprofit that’s also raised concerns about school spending.
“The state Supreme Court says it’s not healthy,” Jones said, “and those of us who are parents in the school system, we see it on a daily basis.”
The Seattle Education Association also hopes that the public support that teachers received during the strike helps bring about wider change.
Phyllis Campano, the union’s vice president and bargaining chair, cited new contract guarantees on student recess, elimination of test scores as an evaluative measure for teachers, employee training and a review of disproportionate discipline as key changes that helped the union garner public support.
“Hopefully not just across the state,” she added, “but across the country.”
Mack, whose children attend Cascadia and Lawton elementary schools, said that in years past, parents from different Seattle schools and neighborhoods have competed for resources.
But with the strike, she said, the community came together, as they realized they all want the same thing: better funding, in Seattle and beyond.
“I was seeing that folks were recognizing it’s not just a Seattle issue, and it’s not just simplistic, that teachers are looking for more pay,” Mack said. “It’s more complicated than that.”