Above Photo: NewsOK
Teachers are striking and protesting in multiple states and teachers in other states are watching because the problems being faced are national in scope. This could be the beginning of a wave of teacher protests, now occurring in red states but blue state teachers suffer similar economic challenges.
In Oklahoma more than 15,000 people descended on Oklahoma City on Monday to demand wage raises and increases to school funding. The protest was organized through social media and while the two teachers unions went along teachers were skeptical of their unions. Bonnie who has been a teacher for 30 years was aware that West Virginia teachers ignored their union and went on strike. She told WSWS “In West Virginia they stayed out when the union said to go back” adding the West Virginia teachers were “the catalyst of what we’re doing here, and we’re the catalyst for what is happening in Arizona and Kentucky. And we’re going to see this across the nation. Finally, education is going to be brought to the forefront of this country. It is not just a state thing. We need to rise up as a nation of teachers.”
Another Oklahoma teacher Val told WSWS that the strike in West Virginia had “kickstarted this.” Now Kentucky teachers are on strike “because the legislature put in a sewerage bill to lower their retirement benefits. A sewer bill! Is that all we’re worth?” She went on to say “They’re doing this so that public schools fail so private schools can come make a profit and destroy public education.”
Huff Post reported that “Oklahoma is dealing with a severe teacher shortage, and many districts have moved to four-day school weeks in order to save money. The state’s teachers rank among the lowest-paid in the country.” Describing teacher protests as a “red state rebellion” they write:
“Oklahoma joins other red states where teachers are rebelling after years of austerity. Teachers in West Virginia went on a nearly two-week strike in late February and early March, eventually winning a 5 percent pay raise. Meanwhile, teachers in Kentucky shut down schools on Friday and Monday to protest proposed cuts to their pension plans. Arizona teachers are planning a statewide walkout as well.”
The described the issue in Kentucky as “one of the most poorly funded pension systems in the country, a product of underperforming investments, persistent underfunding, and the use of hedge-fund investment managers by Kentucky Retirement Systems, the agency in charge of the fund. Teachers who spoke with The Outline suggested closing corporate tax loopholes, legalizing marijuana, or otherwise taxing luxury services, many of which are stand untaxed in the state, Gov. Bevin’s preferred approach is demanding further austerity from the public sector.”
Huff post described “the common thread in these stories is weak investment in public schools. Most states were forced to cut funding during the Great Recession, but some went on to cut taxes in the recovery that followed. That has led to severe budget crunches, leaving states without revenue to put into classrooms and teacher salaries.”
Other states showing teacher unrest and potential strikes include teachers in Jersey City teachers who struck for one day and now Arizona teachers are threatening to go on strike as well, thousands have protested seeking a 20 percent pay increase and more funding for public schools.
Economic Policy Institute reported that the protests show teachers have had enough with the teacher pay gap. They note: “There is no state where teacher wages are equal to or better than those of other college graduates.” They further reported:
“Teachers are concerned with a range of issues, from books and supplies to safe buildings. And they are burdened by growing pay inequities. Over the last two decades, teachers are contributing more and more toward health care and retirement costs as their pay falls further behind. Teacher pay (accounting for inflation) actually fell by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124. In short, the teacher pay gap—the difference between what teachers earn in weekly wages compared with similarly educated and experienced workers—has widened significantly.”
Every day teachers see the impact of economic policies that send wealth to the top creating a tremendous wealth divide and economic insecurity for most people in the United States. They see students lacking adequate resources for basic necessities and requiring to be fed by schools. And, they suffer from budget cuts and inadequate funding for school necessities. Teachers also suffer from stagnate pay while cost of living goes up, especially the cost of health insurance and healthcare. They, like many college graduates, suffer from expensive student loans. We may look back at these teacher rebellions as the beginning of protests by workers in many sectors suffering similar economic challenges. KZ
“Stop the war on public education!”