WEA's support of Gregoire could bode well for education

It's a sign the teachers' union might have accepted the harsh reality of budget cuts and is willing to work with the governor.

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The Washington Education Association -- the state's largest teachers' union -- has been sharply criticized by us and other newspapers in recent years for its inflexibility when it comes to education reform and the budget crisis.

We understand and appreciate the union's desire to look out for the best interests of teachers, but the unbending stands too often seemed to defy reason. The WEA was quick to lash out at the state's political leaders, even Democrats with a history of support for education.

Washington is going through a serious budget crisis. The projected revenue is $5.1 billion short of what was expected to be spent. The Legislature is doing more than cutting wish lists, it's cutting programs, cutting jobs and even cutting pay for state employees.

This grim reality seemed to be ignored by the WEA as its leaders staked out unbending positions that were unreasonable under the circumstances.

But last week the WEA leaders and its membership signaled an acceptance of the harsh, cold reality they -- and all of Washington state -- now face.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has held her nose while accepting deep cuts to education and other programs, received three standing ovations from Washington teachers at a WEA meeting last week.

The Associated Press reported Gregoire got a warm welcome at a statewide WEA meeting in Tacoma.

Gregoire thanked teachers for their work and promised she would fight to make sure their salaries are not cut more than any other public employee, AP reported. The governor went on to ask teachers to help her educate the public that quality education that leads to good jobs for Washington's young people isn't free.

"Things are not going to change on their own," Gregoire said. "We have got to let the public know the value of education. We have got to let them know we need money to make it happen."

WEA President Mary Lindquist made sure the governor heard how much teachers value her.

"While we may not always agree with her on every issue, Gov. Gregoire has and continues to value our work and to respect our professional voice. This is not what other states can say," Lindquist said.

The WEA seems to have accepted reality. Washington state is likely going to have to endure a couple of tough years of budget cuts. But it's important to do the best with the resources available.

Gregoire clearly -- and appropriately -- sees education as among the top priorities for state government.

The WEA's backing of Gregoire, despite her occasional -- although significant -- disagreements with the union, is a positive sign the Legislature, governor and teachers' union can work together now and in the future for good schools and a solid education system.

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