A raucous crowd, estimated by organizers at 6,500 people, descended Monday on the Capitol Campus, loudly calling on lawmakers to fully fund K-12 education.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day gathering was organized by the Washington Education Association and other sponsors, bringing together parents, educators and community leaders to support “education that is amply funded for all students in this state,” said Kim Mead, president of the association.
Speakers for the hourlong gathering included teachers and students.
Duncan King, a senior at Seattle’s Garfield High School, told an audience that filled the steps of the Legislative Building about consequences of underfunding. Students at Garfield are offered six classes per semester, but every year about 200 incoming freshman — primarily African American and Latino students, he said — only take five classes.
“There is not enough money,” he said.
“I’m here because we have been fighting this (underfunding) issue since I was a child, and now I’m a teacher of 23 years,” Veronica Cook told a reporter. Cook teaches autistic children at Shorecrest High School in the Shoreline School District, she said.
“Kids need to be fully funded if we want an educated population,” she said. “If we want a population that doesn’t know what they’re doing, then we’re headed right for that. Our needs are becoming more complicated, and technology is more expensive.”
Alfred Frates of Shoreline, who draped a Washington state flag over his shoulders, warned that social service, health care and education advocates need to show a unified front to make headway this legislative session.
If not, he said, the Legislature is “going to … play us off one another.” Frates said he is a respiratory therapist in Seattle, who has a special needs child at home.
Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed more than $4 billion in new taxes, in part to boost teacher pay and end the state’s reliance on local school levy dollars, a dependence the state Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in the McCleary case.
The state is now in contempt of court and being fined $100,000 a day over lawmakers’ failure to come up with a plan to take on those local salary costs by September 2018.
Later in the day, a separate group of about 100 people made their way from Fifth Avenue in downtown Olympia to the Capitol Campus. The march was organized by “POWER” — parents organizing for welfare and economic rights — but a smattering of other beliefs joined the cause. Members of the gathering shouted “Black Lives Matter” and held signs that read “Isolation rooms do not belong in schools,” “End racism,” and “Stop the school to prison pipeline.”
Along the way, the group stopped at the Heritage Park bathrooms, the recent site of a protest organized by the homeless advocacy group Just Housing. Just Housing wants more 24/7 public bathrooms for the homeless.
“Without 24/7 bathroom access, relieving oneself is effectively illegal for those who lack housing,” said Just Housing member Jeff Thomas. “A basic human need should never be illegal.”
He also thanked Olympia City Council members who recently voted for a new public bathroom at the Artesian Commons.