By Victoria Cavaliere
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Thousands of Seattle teachers walked out of class on Tuesday to demand higher pay and smaller class sizes, marking the largest one-day strike in a series of rolling protests by educators in Washington state over public school funding.
More than 50,000 students in Seattle, the state's largest school district, were out of class on Tuesday as teachers also planned marches and a downtown rally.
To help parents who were unable to make childcare arrangements, the city's parks department staffed activities at 21 community centers for students from kindergarten to 8th grade.
About 2,500 Seattle teachers participated in the walkout, according to the union, the Seattle Education Association.
They join teachers from nearly 60 districts statewide who have held or approved a one-day walkout, accusing lawmakers in Olympia of failing to meet a state Supreme Court mandate to fully fund public schools.
"Parents and voters need to know that legislators are cutting deals right now that will leave our kids far behind," the union said in a statement. "A strike is far from our first choice, but we can’t allow the legislature to continue to fail our kids."
Teachers are also 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 the Washington Education Association.
They want to ensure the upcoming budget meets a voter-mandate to lower class sizes, which rank 47th in the nation, as well, the union said.
Washington averages 23.7 students in elementary classrooms, more than the national average of 21.2, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Teachers in the Seattle suburbs of Mercer Island and Issaquah were also striking on Tuesday, while a dozen more districts statewide have walkouts planned for later this week.
The Washington legislature is under a state Supreme Court order to increase funding for public schools by 2019. The current budget being considered is $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion.
Lawmakers in Olympia contend the budget shows the largest increase in education funding in recent years and meets the demands of the court order. They also say Washington state teachers have some of the highest salaries of any public educators in the country.
Seattle Public Schools declined to comment.
Students will make up Tuesday's missed day in June.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Lambert)