The pro and con sides in the education debate have descended into a school yard brawl.
After the state Senate passed an education reform bill on Thursday (which the pro-side from the state PTA, the state Board of Ed, and the League of Education voters said was a necessary prerequisite for reform and federal funding, but which the anti-side at the teachers' union, the WEA, said was an unfunded mandate), WEA President Mary Lindquist sent out an angry letter (which we posted in full here) saying, among other things that, "the groups behind it [the reform bill] are vested interests masquerading as concerned citizens who care for children."
State PTA President Laura Bay responded with a letter today calling Lindquist's letter an "unwarranted attack on the integrity of the association." Here's Bay's letter in full:
When Bill Williams [PTA President] and I met with you, Mike Ragan and John Okamoto last fall, we agreed that the children on whose behalf we both advocate would be best served if our two organizations developed a collaborative working relationship, and at the same time acknowledged that there would inevitably be issues on which we would not agree. As this legislative session has progressed, it has become clear that one point on which our associations did not and do not agree on is the desirability of legislation implementing at least some of the recommendations of the Joint Legislative Task Force on Basic Education Funding.
Until yesterday morning when I opened my email from you with the subject line “I’m outraged”, I thought our disagreement on this issue was a difference in priorities, significant but not personal. Thus I was stunned and extremely disappointed by the statement in your email that “The groups behind [HB2261] are vested interests masquerading as concerned citizens who care for children.” This was an unwarranted attack on the integrity of this Association and our 150,000 members, many of whom (me, for example) are also members of WEA.
Every day PTA members volunteer countless hours of their time in their local schools, in many instances freeing your members from routine tasks so they can spend more time teaching our students. Every year, PTA members raise millions of dollars so that local schools can purchase classrooms supplies, equipment, and in many instances pay stipends or even salaries for your members. And when levy or bond elections come around, PTA members are there to support the effort, by making signs, calling voters, standing on the street corner—whatever it takes. Their only “vested interest” is the welfare of their children and the other children in their communities. In fact many of our members no longer have children in school, yet they continue to volunteer because they recognize the importance of public education to our democracy.
A certain level of polemics is to be expected in any advocacy effort. However your ad hominem attack on our Association and our members was totally out of line. I resisted responding immediately so that I wouldn’t say something in anger that I might later regret. Yet I am just as angry and hurt this morning as I was when I opened my email twenty-four hours ago. More importantly, your statement has inflicted significant damage to the relationship between our associations, damage that I believe will hamper the ability of both organizations to advocate on behalf of the children of Washington state.
Outraged, Mary? You should be ashamed.
WEA spokesman Rich Wood told me the WEA wants the bill "to die in the House." (Pressing for a Gregoire veto seems like a lost cause. Governor Gregoire's office told me she was planning to sign the bill.)
But the WEA has its work cut out for it if they want the bill killed in the House. The House instigated a stronger education reform bill in the first place, passed it in March, and then pushed the Senate to upgrade the Senate version—which is exactly what the Senate did on Thursday. The only reason the bill is back in the House now, is because the Senate actually added in a few more reforms—allowing the state to intervene in failing schools, for example—that the House supports.
To follow our full coverage of the substantive issues in the debate: Start here.