Teachers union biggest spender in Washington state lobbying

Group spent more than twice as much as the next-highest organization

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SEATTLE — The Washington Education Association spends more on lobbying the Legislature than any other group and more than twice as much as the next-highest lobbying organization, a health care workers union.

The state teacher's union spent more than $380,000 on lobbying in the first three months of 2013, according to figures from the Public Disclosure Commission, The Seattle Times reported in Sunday's newspaper.

Among other big spenders are an association of state school administrators and school principals, which spent about $48,000 and $21,000, respectively. A union of non-teacher school employees spent nearly $40,000. And three education advocacy groups pushing for policy changes opposed by the WEA each spent about $25,000 or less.

The WEA's efforts come as lawmakers are debating how to respond to a January 2012 state Supreme Court order to spend more on K-12 education.

From 2006-2009, the union's first-quarter lobbying spending reached more than $400,000 each year as the Legislature worked to define basic education paid for by the state and then made budget cuts due to the recession.

Its spending dropped during the same period for the next three years.

The WEA -- with 82,000 members -- has long been one of the biggest spenders on lobbying in Olympia. WEA spokesman Rich Wood said it's good that teachers are a part of education policy discussions.

"It stands to reason that the educators in the classroom, who work with our kids in the classroom, should have a voice in the decisions that are being made that affect them and their students," said Wood, emphasizing the group lobbies for the interests of both teachers and students.

The WEA's January-March 2013 total included some $119,000 in salaries for a half-dozen lobbyists; $175,000 on radio advertisements meant to affect pending legislation; and $13,000 to bring teachers to the Capitol to meet with lawmakers.

The union also spent $10,000 to doorbell homes in the districts of state Sens. Rodney Tom and Steve Hobbs. The two Democrats have earned the union's ire by supporting bills to grade schools A through F; create a state-run district for the lowest-performing schools; and give principals more say in personnel decisions.

April expense reports are due May 15. The group also spent significantly last month, including on a new radio ad and costs related to an even larger rally on the Capitol steps the day before the regular legislative session ended.

The WEA's results have been mixed.

Separate budget proposals from Gov. Jay Inslee, the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-run Senate all add hundreds of millions of dollars to K-12 education.

But only the House budget allocates significant money to class-size reduction, and none of the budgets fund the pay raises. Those were two of WEA's priorities this session.

On the other hand, House Democratic lawmakers have shot down nearly all of the Senate policy bills, which mostly Republican supporters said would add accountability but the WEA said wouldn't do any good and in some cases would restrict teacher bargaining and due-process rights.

Twelve of the 21 lawmakers on the House committee received political donations from the WEA last year, many at the maximum level of $1,800. And two of the freshman lawmakers — committee vice chair Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver; and Steve Bergquist, D-Renton -- are public-school teachers and members of the union.

Wood, the union spokesman, said, "It's great that we have working educators in the Legislature for the first time in quite a long time."

The WEA also has an ally in the governor's office: Inslee's interim education adviser, Lynn Macdonald, served as a spokeswoman for WEA's Tacoma chapter when it went on strike in 2011.

The WEA donated $1 million to a political action committee that supported Inslee's election last year.