OLYMPIA – As part of the latest push to get more state money for public schools, thousands of sign-waving parents, students and school employees jammed the steps of the Capitol Monday morning then streamed into legislative office buildings to lobby their lawmakers.
As the crowd estimated by state officials as some 5,500 dispersed, many lined up behind numbers for each of the state’s 49 legislative districts. They marched to drums and verses of “We Shall Overcome” around the domed Legislative Building, into the hallways and stairwells of the House Office Building.
When they got to the offices, however, most legislators weren’t in. They were across the campus in the Capitol in meetings with their caucus or involved in the traditional ceremonies to mark Martin Luther King Day.
Demonstrators like Karen Runyon of Cheney, however, were unfazed. Outside the offices of Republican Reps. Jeff Holy and Mike Volz, who represent her in Spokane’s 6th District, she gave legislators’ staff members a poster-sized copy of what protesters are calling the “Student Bill of Rights”.
It asserts all students have the right to well-maintained schools with small class sizes, current curricula, adequate supplies and 21st Century technology.
While some West Side districts had dozens of demonstrators available to try to buttonhole their lawmakers, Runyon was the lone lobbyist from the 6th. The president of the Cheney Education Association, she caught a 6 a.m. flight to SeaTac in order to take part in the protest and lobbying effort.
“I’ve been coming here for years,” she said. This year, with deadlines approaching on a state Supreme Court order that the Legislature spend more money for public schools, she hopes “the time is right” for lawmakers to make those critical decisions.
If they don’t want to impose new taxes, “how about closing some of those loopholes,” Runyon said. Lawmakers shouldn’t pit school programs against social services if the budget gets tight, she said.
Some demonstrators stayed around for afternoon meetings of the committees that handle education issues. The House Education Committee was getting an overview of the state Supreme Court case on the state’s responsibilities and public school finances, and its Senate counterpart had a briefing on “opportunity gaps” on the state’s school system.
But neither was taking public testimony on bills that would address those issues.