The WEA union’s decision to target districts with teacher strikes just as the school year was starting disrupted the education of thousands of public education students, although teachers at the state’s charter public schools did not strike. As a result of union strike demands, many districts ended up putting their school budgets into deficit. This summer, officials at 250 (out of 295) school districts negotiated new teacher contracts. As a pressure tactic, executives at the powerful WEA union targeted 29 school districts with strikes, even though teachers strikes are not permitted under state law. Of these, 15 districts were hit with strikes, putting some 164,000 students out of school. In all, the education of one in three children were affected by actual or threatened strike action this year. Political conflict is a central part of Washington state’s education system. Federal data shows a child’s education in Washington is more likely to be disrupted by union strike action than in any other state. The disruptions come at a time of record increases in school budgets. The legislature passed a large property tax increase and added $7.3 billion to education spending over the next four years. This year spending averages $15,000 per student, more than the tuition at most private schools. In King County, for example, property taxes have increased an average of 17%, adding $800 in tax on a median-valued home. That burden falls hardest on those least able to pay; the poor, the young, immigrant households, and the elderly living on a fixed income. Still, rising union demands and strike action have put many school budgets into deficit, meaning lawmakers will likely be pressed to provide a bailout by raising taxes again when they meet in January. Change in the system may be coming, however. Currently 3,500 children attend charter public schools. During the recent strikes none of their teachers walked out. Charters are popular and most have long waiting lists, as parents seek alternatives to traditional schools in their areas that are not working. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that all public school teachers have a fundamental right to work, meaning they can refuse to strike, and even leave their union altogether, without being fired. Teacher pay is at record highs, many make over $80,000 a year, so many educators see no need to harm student learning by joining a union walk-out. These two trends – greater family choice in education, and rising professionalism and autonomy among teachers – will continue to weaken the WEA union’s grip on local schools. That’s a good thing. As union power wanes, it will reduce conflict in the system. That in turn will help parents, teachers and administrators work together collaboratively to make sure every child has access to a good public education.