Moving to statewide teacher bargaining is the only rational choice

We’re probably all a little sick of reading about the McCleary education funding case. It remains, however, the issue in state government, looming over everything the governor and legislature do or want to do.

At SGW we’ve been pretty clear about the elements we believe are necessary to finally put the McCleary issue to rest. The Seattle Times has been admirably clear this year too, spelling out for lawmakers and candidates seeking the paper’s endorsement what it expects, in terms of policy and knowledge. The ed board is pushing Republicans on taxes, and Democrats on shifting teacher bargaining from school districts to the state.

On that second point, Editor Kate Riley spelled it out:

“Many, but not all, Democratic lawmakers and candidates think that once the state takes over fully funding K-12 education, alleviating that burden on local school districts, it should not take over the responsibility of bargaining for the whole state.

“This editorial board thinks it should.”

Sticking with current system makes no sense
Resistance to this practical and obvious idea is becoming harder and harder to justify. As the state moves closer to a McCleary solution, everyone acknowledges that it will require the state to take on more direct funding of teacher salaries while local school districts take on less.

If that is the case, can anyone explain how it would be rational to continue the current bargaining system, where teachers unions negotiate with 295 separate school districts?

There’s no more fitting word than “irrational” to describe an arrangement where the state would foot the bill for teacher salaries, but those salaries would be bargained separately with 295 schools boards. That makes no sense.

In what other real-life scenario would this be seen as normal? Employees of a business negotiate with their employer, not the payroll company that cuts their checks – that’s essentially what school districts would be in this scenario. You bargain with the people footing the bill – in this case, the state – not the middle man.

Union clings to 295 separate negotiations
But an irrational system is exactly what the state teachers union wants to preserve. The Times ed board wrote, “[Solving McCleary] will likely require a statewide collective bargaining system for teachers, an idea that makes the teachers union — big supporters of Inslee and most Democrats — irate.”

Irate. That has put Democrats in a tough spot. No interest group in Olympia can eliminate Democratic dissension in Olympia quite like the WEA.

As the Times rolls out its legislative endorsements, it has praised Democratic candidates willing to admit that statewide bargaining makes sense. Of state Rep. Lillian Self-Ortiz, the paper said:

“And though she is a member of the Washington Education Association, which opposes statewide bargaining for teacher contracts, she says she is open to the concept as part of a larger solution for the state, unburdening local school districts from helping pay for basic education. That show of independence is a shift from her statements two years ago.”

They’re also calling out candidates who don’t know what they’re talking about. In endorsing state Sen. Steve Litzow, the board said of his challenger Lisa Wellman:

“Pressuring incumbents is welcome. But during an interview, Wellman was surprisingly unprepared to discuss education issues in play in recent years.

“One sticking point is reforming teachers’ collective bargaining. When the state fully funds basic education, bargaining must be at least partly centralized. Wellman was unsure about this and asked what position teachers unions were taking.”

Not exactly the independence one would hope for, and a pretty strong indication of how this candidate would act in office. It’s one thing to try to not tick off your most important political benefactor, but Democratic legislative candidates need to address just how far into the rabbit hole of irrationality they’re willing to go to stay on the WEA’s good side.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.