Nationwide Teacher Strikes Highlight The Dire State Of US Public Education

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WV teacher strike at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Berkeley County, West Virginia (Photo Credit: Eric Bourgeois CC BY-SA 4.0 from Wikimedia Commons)

On Wednesday, May 16, thousands of North Carolina educators took to the streets to protest against low teacher salaries and deteriorating school conditions. Their one-day strike is part of a growing national movement that has swept across the country since West Virginia teachers began the initiative in February.

Chronic cuts to education spending over the past decade has resulted in bigger classroom sizes and increasingly lower salaries. On average, teachers earn 60 percent less than similarly educated professionals, forcing many to take on second, or even third, jobs. To make matters worse, they are often forced to teach using torn textbooks, outdated equipment, and limited or no classroom supplies. Here is a look at some of the passionate educators who are fighting to bring about badly needed reform to the US public education system.

West Virginia

WV Teacher Strike at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Berkeley County, West Virginia (Photo Credit: Eric Bourgeois CC BY-SA 4.0 from Wikimedia Commons

On February 22, thousands of West Virginia school personnel, including many of the state’s 20,000 teachers, took to the streets to campaign for state education reforms. The protest was triggered by signed legislation to provide teachers, school administrators and police with a 2 percent pay increase starting July, and 1 percent pay hikes in 2020 and 2021 — neither of which are enough to cover the cost of living increases. Instead of being upset over the nine-day strike that resulted in closing schools across the state’s 55 counties, many parents marched alongside the educators in solidarity.

It took almost two weeks, but on March 6, the legislators finally succumbed to the demands and approved a 5 percent pay increase for the first year. This is a significant victory for the state’s teachers, who are among the nation’s lowest paid. The governor also agreed to set up a special task force to look into the educators’ concerns about healthcare benefits.

Oklahoma

Image credit: edweek.org

Galvanized by West Virginia’s success, on April 2, 2018, Oklahoma teachers and supporters staged a massive walkout in Oklahoma City, causing more than 200 school districts to close. The protests reflected discontent over a decade of tax cuts that have reduced educational funding to just $8,000 per student, far below the national average of $11,400, resulting in 20 percent of schools shortening their weeks to four days and offering fewer electives. A 2016 report from the National Education Association (NEA) revealed that, at $45,276 a year, average teacher salaries in Oklahoma were also the second-lowest in the nation.

Their plea did not go unheard. On April 12, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin instituted new or higher taxes on oil and gas production, tobacco, motor fuels, and online sales. The funds will be used to increase teacher salaries by an average of $6,100, depending on experience, and that of support staff by $1,250. An additional $50 million will be provided to schools to pay for new textbooks, technology, and infrastructure upgrades.

Kentucky

Image Credit: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (via Vox.com)

Protests in Kentucky began in late March when a pension reform bill, giving legislators authority to alter pension funds for new teachers, was unexpectedly approved by the State House and Senate.

Unrest over the hastily passed law, which proposed cuts to teacher retirement programs, led to a massive rally with thousands of educators and supporters descending upon the Capitol on Monday, April 2. Many teachers also used the opportunity to demand additional money for classroom supplies, which they often purchase from personal funds. On April 14, the officials passed three tax and budget measures that are expected to raise nearly $400 million, a large chunk of which will be spent on education funding.

Arizona

Following a six-day strike in 90-degree heat, Arizona teachers were finally able to celebrate on May 3, after state lawmakers agreed to some of their demands. In addition to a 20 percent pay raise over the next four years, the final budget package, dubbed the “#20x2020” plan, will also partially restore the $400 million school funding lost in recession-era cuts. The money will be used to increase the salaries of support staff, purchase new textbooks, and upgrade technology and infrastructure. “We will return to our schools, classrooms, and students knowing we have achieved something truly historic. We should take pride in what we have accomplished, and in the movement that we have created together,” said National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García.

Colorado

Throughout April, Colorado educators from several districts took personal days to try to convince legislators to increase state school budgets, which have been underfunded by an astounding $822 million annually, since 2009. The lack of money has forced districts to fire staff, freeze salaries, shift to four-day school weeks, and eliminate enrichment programs. At the end of the month, Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged the teachers’ concerns at a rally and promised to address them, without offering any specifics.

To bring about more concrete change, on May 7, teachers from Pueblo City Schools organized the state’s first district-wide strike in 20 years. The five-day stand-off resulted in a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for the 2017-18 school year, retroactive from January. Additionally, in September, educators will receive a step increase in salary based on experience, a 2.5 percent cost of living raise, and a monthly $50 stipend towards the district’s health insurance premium contribution.

Photo Credit: Michelle Gunderson via twitter

Hopefully, these walkouts will encourage legislators in other states to take preemptive action so that more teachers don’t have to take to the streets to provide a world-class education for their students.

Resources: Vox.com, cnn.com, wikipedia.org, Denverpost.com

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158 Comments
  • WascidSunday, March 17, 2019 at 7:08 pm
    They really should be paid more. And school shouldn't start until AT LEAST nine. For most students, myself included, we need to get up at around six to seven. I'm homeschooled and I still have to get up early to get everything done. It's ridiculous for the government to pay these teachers so little, expect so much, and then give them tired, unwilling students who don't even care about their education most of the time. Sleep is a very important thing. I'm usually a nice person, but if you catch me after a bad night's sleep you'll wish I'd have slept more. So many children are being stuffed in a classroom for most of the day, being force-fed knowledge but going home tired and sometimes sad and depressed. Knowledge is being passed down from teacher to student, but wisdom and good morals aren't. Students are missing out on good family life. All this makes me sad. Help me change this. Tell the whole world! Spread the word!
    • JulietteThursday, January 24, 2019 at 8:07 am
      that is crazy that people are missing so much school time I actually helped with a teacher walkout in 3rd grade
      • DavidTuesday, January 8, 2019 at 7:28 pm
        The teachers better get paid good that is sad to see😢
        • AngelTuesday, January 8, 2019 at 7:25 pm
          Protest until they pay you good / good luck teachers
          • hamdaanMonday, December 10, 2018 at 4:31 pm
            wow how many teachers are on strike!!!!
            • chlooe
              chlooeMonday, December 3, 2018 at 2:01 pm
              So cute! I never knew that teachers can be this appreciative! Lovin' it.
              • Amy-Mae Wednesday, October 24, 2018 at 8:51 pm
                This is shocking
                • Caroline Sunday, October 14, 2018 at 9:50 am
                  Ok, ok, ok. For all the kids out there wanting less homework, consider this. Homework is there to reinforce what you learned in class. I am in 10th grade and I get about 6-8 hours of homework every night. Even though I would rather be doing something fun and relaxing, I still am glad that my teachers gave me the work to do. In math, for example, you learn how to do long division in class. But you can't expect to be perfect in long division in the 30 minutes to an hour of class time. You have to go home and practice it. That's the same for every subject. Complaining won't help anything.
                  • BrandonSaturday, October 13, 2018 at 10:08 am
                    Wow. I didn't realize until now how much teachers are really getting paid. Teachers work really hard to help children get education, and they don't earn much money for such an important job for the world. Teachers should get paid a sustainable living wage, or children won't get good classrooms or supplies during their school years.
                    • hiFriday, September 28, 2018 at 7:05 am
                      i live in va so im all good for this