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 To make matters worse, they are often forced to teach using torn textbooks, outdated equipment, and limited or no classroom supplies.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.


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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.


Image Credit: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (via

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.


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 teachers demonstrate outside the state capitol. (Photo: Michaelgoins700/Twitter)

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.


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Reading Comprehension (13 questions)

  1. Why did North Carolina teachers stage a walkout on May 16?
  2. Who began the national movement?

Critical Thinking Challenge

Why is cutting school funding not good for America’s future?


Vocabulary in Context

“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.”

In the above sentence,...

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  • 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
          • Darkhan Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at 10:54 pm
            wow we should have less home work teachers are cool
            • mrmars06
              mrmars06Monday, August 27, 2018 at 4:49 pm
              We should fight for less homework. XD
              • cavespider
                cavespiderMonday, September 17, 2018 at 8:29 pm
                We need education but they give you so much they should give kids less work but Don go to far I think they should give kids 5 hours of school
              • Sir Reginald Monday, July 30, 2018 at 4:53 pm
                This is a serious problem 🧐
                • Zoe NightShadeTuesday, June 19, 2018 at 7:31 pm
                  The money will be found when every teacher stops coming to work. It's sad it's come to this. It's not fair for if he teachers or the students. Sometime, people who work for the school gets paid MORE then the teacher who's doing the work! It's terrible.
                  • vncgfxdtryuiojTuesday, June 19, 2018 at 7:02 am
                    i think teachers need to get a better pay
                    • RacquelTuesday, June 12, 2018 at 5:40 am
                      Without teachers how are we suppose to learn

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