More than 4,000 people attended a Saturday rally to support teachers as the state Legislature has yet to agree on how to fund education and the entire state budget.
OLYMPIA — Thousands of teachers and their supporters crowded the steps of the state Capitol’s legislative building for a rally Saturday to call for teacher-pay raises, smaller class sizes and less standardized testing.
More than 4,000 people attended the hourlong rally, held a day after lawmakers adjourned their regular session without coming to agreement on a two-year state budget. They are due back in Olympia for a special session, to start Wednesday.
Gov. Jay Inslee, House Speaker Frank Chopp and other politicians spoke Saturday about their efforts to improve Washington’s public-education system, which Inslee called “the paramount duty of the state of Washington” in a speech that invoked his father’s career as a teacher.
He decried the six-year period since teachers received a cost of living adjustment, or COLA, to raise their pay, and he cited a 12:30 a.m. email from his grandson’s kindergarten teacher as evidence of how hard teachers work.
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“Let’s make sure legislators help our educators get a reasonable COLA 24 hours a day, because they’re working 24 hours a day,” Inslee told the crowd.
Most of the teachers and advocates wore red shirts to demonstrate solidarity, and many held up signs to advocate for their cause. Nearly all the political calls for better schools drew loud cheers, but the crowd jeered when Inslee described a compromise figure he had arrived at in pay-raise negotiations.
Chopp, D-Seattle, gave a fiery speech laced with call-and-response sections and spoke out against “the insanity of a federal law that labels every public school a failure.” He told the crowd he would fight all efforts to connect teacher evaluations to test scores and other policies he considers misguided.
“Enacting bad policy at the state level as a result of bad policy at the federal level doesn’t help schools,” Chopp said. “It doesn’t help students.”
An airplane circling over the Capitol campus during the rally also drew boos. It trailed a banner calling for an end to teacher strikes. According to a Washington Education Association estimate, 2,000 teachers in six school districts staged a one-day walkout Friday in protest of proposed state budget treatment of teacher pay and benefits.
Washington State Patrol officers at the rally said they were investigating whether the plane’s tail numbers had been illegally concealed. A call to a State Patrol spokesman afterward was not returned.
Pat Ferguson, a fifth-grade teacher at Olympia’s Roosevelt Elementary, said he attended the rally in hopes lawmakers would show teachers more support during future legislative sessions. He said he was unsure it would succeed.
“I’m not confident, but I hope so,” he said. “I think this does send a message, but they’ve all left town, except for a handful.”