By Victoria Cavaliere
SEATTLE, April 22 (Reuters) - Several thousand teachers across Washington state are planning a one-day strike on Wednesday to demand higher pay, better benefits and a reduction in class sizes, the state's largest teachers' union said.
Nearly 3,000 teachers in nine school districts were planning to participate in the walkout, said Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood. The 5,000 members of the Seattle chapter of the union are voting this week on whether to stage their own walkout in May.
At issue are cost-of-living raises and funding for benefits being considered by the state Legislature. Teachers are unhappy about a proposal to raise pay by 3 percent over two years, while the state has not increased teacher healthcare funding in five years, according to Wood.
Teachers also want the state Senate to abandon a plan that would increase class sizes in grades four to 12, the union said.
"The current budgets fall far short of funding the quality public schools our kids deserve," Wood said.
Lawmakers in the state capital, Olympia, are debating a public education budget of between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion to try to satisfy demands of a state Supreme Court order to increase funding for public schools.
Teachers say that money is not enough to fulfill the court order to fully fund schools by 2019. The educators have also taken issue with a bill passed by the state Senate that would mandate the use of state test scores in teacher evaluation.
"Instead of making the investment in public education that our children need and the Constitution mandates, the state Senate majority is lowballing the schools budget and passing bills that scapegoat teachers," Shirley Potter, president of the Bellingham Education Association, said in a statement.
More than 20,000 parents signed a petition last month in support of the bill linking teacher evaluations to test scores, according to the education advocacy group Stand for Children.
The measure, which has moved to the state House of Representatives for debate, could also put Washington back in control of $40 million in federal funding it lost last year for failing to meet the U.S. Department of Education's requirement to include statewide student test results in teacher evaluations under the No Child Left Behind law, the group said. (Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Peter Cooney)