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I stand with Seattle educators: We need democratic flexibility for local school levies

Some Democratic legislators in Olympia are trying to undermine collective bargaining, force teacher pay cuts, and siphon public money away from our unionized district schools and towards non-union charter schools. I stand with the Seattle Education Association and all educators. My letter to union members and allies:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Dear Seattle Educators:

As an educator, a rank-and-file union member of AFT Local 1789, a member of Socialist Alternative, and a Seattle City Councilmember, I stand with you in urging the state Legislature to restore democratic flexibility for local school levies. Educators are the best experts on what our schools need, and unions like the Seattle Education Association must have every opportunity to negotiate with school districts to fund additional teachers to reduce class sizes, and to fund other student needs such as librarians, school nurses, early learning, music, and art.

Shamefully, Legislators in Olympia, are going after educators and our unions, as part of the ongoing onslaught on public education. Earlier this month, the Senate Ways and Means Committee, under majority control of Democrats, inserted two poison pills into a school funding bill that would undermine collective bargaining, force pay cuts, and siphon public money away from our unionized district schools and towards non-union charter schools.

Charter Schools are being used as a way to defund district schools, and undermine the organized voice of educators, with the real goal of privatizing public education as a whole. If Washington state has charter schools, they should be unionized, and put under the democratic public control.

Rather than blaming public school teachers, and attempting to undermine union rights, the state Legislature should be taxing big business and the wealthy to fully fund public education.

I am disappointed, but not surprised, to see that the Washington Association of School Administrators and the Washington State School Directors Association (the statewide body representing school boards) have joined in support of these anti-worker, anti-public-education measures. The administrators and school board members behind this are simply following the Betsy DeVos playbook of starving public schools and attacking educators and their unions.

Unfortunately, the Seattle Public Schools administration and the Seattle School Board have completely failed to speak in opposition to what their state organizations are advocating.

For the last few years, we’ve heard establishment Democratic politicians ask voters to help them win a majority in Olympia. They claimed that once in the majority, they would stand with workers, students, and communities.

Now that the Democratic establishment controls the state House, Senate, and the Governor’s mansion, they have no excuse for failing to fight for the interests of working people and for public education. Unfortunately, as the WEA correctly pointed out,

Now that our salaries are starting to catch up, some legislators are pointing fingers, and administrators are threatening layoffs. Instead, we believe they need to focus on a solution: removing legislative restrictions on local school levies.

Starting with the mighty strike action in West Virginia last year, followed by strikes in Arizona, Los Angeles, Denver, and Oakland, educators and our unions have demonstrated again and again that we have the power to defeat attacks on public education through independent grassroots organizing, working class politics, direct action and strikes.

Public education is under grave threat from Republicans and the Trump administration, but we have also seen a decades-long assault on public education by both Republicans and the right wing, and pro-privatization, anti-union establishment Democrats as well. I stand with you in the fight for full public school funding and local levy flexibility.

Olympia needs independent elected representatives who are truly accountable to working people and oppressed communities, not politicians from both major parties that claim to support us, but once in office, shamefully work with big business to undermine the needs of ordinary people, collective bargaining, and public education.

In solidarity,

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Kshama Sawant

Seattle City Councilmember, District 3

Member, American Federation of Teachers Local 1789

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