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Teachers Strike In Washington State

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tens of thousands of students are staying home today in southwest Washington state. There are thousands of teachers on strike there and more threatening to join as districts grapple with how to allocate new state funds. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Molly Solomon reports.

MOLLY SOLOMON, BYLINE: Washington is one of the few states with a constitution that requires it fully funds basic education. And in 2007, the state was sued for underfunding of schools. Now the state is required to make that money up and is giving districts an additional $1 billion for teacher salaries. But many teachers say they're not getting the raises they deserve. One of them is Joanie Hahn, a math teacher who's worked at Hudson's Bay High School for 10 years. She and thousands of other teachers in southwest Washington are on strike.

JOANIE HAHN: I just want to make sure that our voices are heard.

SOLOMON: Hahn says the school districts can now afford to pay teachers the double-digit increases they're asking for, but superintendents say the money is not limitless. Mary Templeton is the superintendent of Washougal Public Schools.

MARY TEMPLETON: We've pushed the edge of financial limit.

SOLOMON: The new funding has meant that all 295 school districts in Washington State are renegotiating their teacher contracts. Some unions have been very successful getting their teachers raises up to a third of their salary, but the districts decide how to allocate the money, and that makes for tough negotiations. Bill Beville is the union president of the largest school district on strike.

BILL BEVILLE: If they want teachers back in schools, it's, like, they've got to come to the table and look at competitive, professional wages.

SOLOMON: Many more Washington schools are set to start class next week, including Seattle, the state's largest district. And if the teachers don't get the salary increases they've asked for, they say they too will join the picket line.

For NPR News, I'm Molly Solomon in Vancouver, Wash.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIGNAL HILL'S "AMBER LANTERN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Molly Solomon joined HPR in May 2012 as an intern for the morning talk show The Conversation. She has since worn a variety of hats around the station, doing everything from board operator to producer.
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