Speech on the Establishment of Seattle Educators Week

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On September 9, 2015, my resolution to designate the week of September 14-18 as Seattle Educators Week passed unanimously.  Within this legislation, the Seattle City Council called on the school district to negotiate in good faith, and for the Washington State Legislature to fully fund education. Go here for the full text of the legislation, and watch or read my speech on the resolution’s passage below.


I want to thank you all who came today, especially members from the Seattle Education Association, and those who spoke at public comment. I especially appreciate your presence here, because I know that your more important work is to be on the picket lines, and to be discussing with your fellow members. So your presence here is really noted. And I’m sure that many of you haven’t slept well in many nights.

Over the last decade, as we’ve seen, public education has come under a ferocious assault by successive Republican and Democratic administrations across the country. We have seen schools being deeply underfunded, and forced to teach more and more to standardized testing. There have been attempts to dismantle public education – first with vouchers, and then charter schools. And education unions have been attacked with anti-union legislation and code battles.

Here in Washington State, we know the Supreme Court has deemed the legislature to be criminally underfunding public education. In this context, the strike of our Seattle educators to fight for the schools Seattle deserves is truly historic.

Pay and hours for educators are absolutely vital. Outrageously the district wants to extend the workday for teachers by thirty minutes per day without paying teachers for this. And we have to know that this is also a women’s rights issue, in the face of persistent gender pay disparities, because this is a profession that has majority women educators.

Unfortunately, though not surprising, there have been real, very loose distortions by The Seattle Times on your demands on pay. But what’s heartening is to see that the community is clearly rejecting those lies, and is on your side unambiguously.

But in addition to your own pay and hours, you are also fighting to stop the serious racial biases that persist in school discipline. You’re fighting to limit the over-reliance on high stakes testing. Even equity in recess time for elementary school students in different schools is something that the unions have had to fight for. And you won a significant victory in the form of a minimum thirty minute recess.

You’re also fighting for caseload caps for special education, so that students can get the support that they need. If the union wins on these demands, it will be a huge step forward – a victory for students and educators that make up Seattle public schools. However, a victory for the union will also be a victory for education around the country, because it will show that if we organize and remain united, we can resist attacks against public education. It will also be a victory for all workers in Seattle, who will be emboldened to organize in unions and campaign to have a say in their workplaces.

This resolution gives the Council support for the work that all educators do, and I wanted to congratulate President Jonathan Knapp of the Seattle Education Association, your negotiating team that has worked so hard over months, led by Phyllis Campano, the Vice President of the union, and all the members of your union that have stood strong – not only for teachers, but public education. I really commend you. And I also wanted to thank all of my colleagues for all the involvement, the edits you provided, and for supporting the resolution.

Lastly, I wanted to say this: There is a crisis in funding for public education. The solution to that is not to short change teachers’ unions, but for the school board to concede on these reasonable demands and fight with the union for full funding of public education throughout the state. And really, one of the best ways to help end the school-to-prison pipeline is to fully fund schools, and give the educators a fair contract.

I also wanted to mention that I have donated $500 to the Seattle Education Association strike fund. I will be donating another $500, and I would urge all of my colleagues to also do the same so that we have a real show of support for your action.