- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - After thousands of teachers marched through downtown Seattle on Tuesday as part of a one-day walkout, lawmakers heard testimony in Olympia on a bill that would punish teachers for going on strike.

Senate Bill 6116, which would take away teacher pay during strike days, was sponsored by a Democrat, but Sen. Tim Sheldon, a member of the mostly Republican majority caucus, did not receive any support from other Democratic lawmakers. They walked out of a meeting of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee before testimony began.

In a statement about the walkout, Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, said lawmakers should be focusing on the state budget and education spending, not this bill. The teachers who protested in Seattle were carrying signs that showed they agreed, saying things like “Good schools require good funding.”

The chairman of the Commerce and Labor Committee, Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said teachers shouldn’t be protesting the state budget because proposals in both the Senate and the House would give them their first cost-of-living pay increase in years.

Baumgartner criticized teachers for taking time away from the classroom and for not bringing their protest to his committee, where no one from the teachers union testified during Tuesday’s hearing.

Sheldon said similar bills passed the Senate in 2001 and 2003, with bipartisan support. He urged teachers to have faith in the Legislature, adding that he thinks the budget for the next two years will be the best budget for education in 30 years.

The teachers’ union says teachers are already not paid when they don’t come to work, but they do get paid if a school district schedules a make-up day after a strike.

Teachers in Seattle, Mercer Island and Issaquah took a one-day strike Tuesday joining nearly 60 other school districts across the state that have planned or taken similar action. Teachers in more than a dozen districts have protests planned for later this week.

The march from Seattle Center to Westlake Center kept traffic off Second Avenue as teachers in red T-shirts filled the street for blocks at a time.

A spokesman for the Washington Education Association said more than 6,000 teachers and support staff participated in the one-day strike. Some of them came to downtown Seattle for the march.

Teachers at the march said they were hoping parents would call their lawmakers to tell them to find the money to pay for smaller classes, teacher raises and other needs of public schools.

Leslie Sager, a first-grade teacher at Roxhill Elementary in South Seattle, where nearly 80 percent of the children quality for free- or reduced-priced lunch, said she was participating in the march to raise awareness about inequity in Washington public schools. Sager said the parents at her school are supportive of the teacher’s efforts, even though the one-day strike caused childcare issues for many parents across Washington’s largest school district.

“They are fighting for justice for their kids too,” she said.

Camille Schurman and Casey Middleton, two fourth-graders from Salmon Bay K-8 School in North Seattle, where their parents are teachers, said they came to the march to support the teachers.

“Teachers are going on strike to get more funding for education,” Camille said.

“I hope it works,” Casey added.

Gov. Jay Inslee said on Tuesday in Olympia that he understood why teachers were frustrated with lawmakers.

“Obviously, we’d like teachers in the classroom, but I really understand deeply the profound frustration of teachers who have been denied any COLA for years now,” the governor said, referring to cost-of-living raises, and the fact that lawmakers are set to receive a raise later this year. “The Legislature right now is going to get an 11 percent COLA while the teachers are having to dig in their own pockets to buy colored pencils for their kids.”

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AP Correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed to this story from Olympia.

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