Statistically, the United States spends more money on its students of any other country, and yet, seems to rank between average and below average among the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). According to TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Assessment) in 2015, the U.S. scored its best in 20 years since the inception of TIMSS — but there are teachers who are unable to make ends meet, who work additional jobs, who have out-of-date or no school supplies, larger classroom sizes and no classroom supports.
How does that work for our children?
In what has become known as “Teacher’s Spring,” teachers and parents across at least six, typically red, states said, “Enough.” Beginning with West Virginia, they began walking out and straight to their respective state capitols after years of pleas falling on deaf ears and collective bargaining avenues shut down. Their efforts have triumphed somewhat, with a number of changes for the better. However, in the current climate and with the DeVos-led Dept. of Education, support for public education is far from secure.
From the East to the West – Teachers and Parents rise up for Education
Seriously, don’t mess with “Dumb Bunnies.” Governor Jim Justice (R-WV) who ran on the Democratic ticket then switched parties, learned this the hard way. Governor Justice made the mistake of calling teachers “dumb bunnies” at a town hall meeting. Those “dumb bunnies” came for him and they were mad as hell.
Being called dumb bunnies however, was the least of their grievances. On February 22, 2018, 34,000 West Virginia teachers organized and went on strike for 9 days. Teachers, backed by 270,000 parents, showed up at the West Virginia State Capitol donning bunny ears and carrying a list of demands. The nine day strike succeeded getting five of the demands met, and garnered a 5 percent pay raise for the teachers. More importantly, the WV teachers’ strike inspired a cascade of actions in other states: Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina followed suit with their demands.
The Oklahoma teachers strike began on April 2, 2018. Oklahoma teachers earn the least among teachers in all the states — only $.67 to the dollar as compared to other college graduates. Their demands included a restoration to budget cuts that led to decrepit, outdated textbooks and severe neglect of school building infrastructure. Teachers relied heavily on donated supplies from parents. Cutbacks resulted in broken chairs, duct-taped textbooks and a four-day school week.
The Oklahoma State Senate agreed to restore $40 million in funding and provide a $6,100 raise for teachers. Not all of the OK teachers’ demands were met. Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Teachers Association, is calling for teachers to hit the polls for the June 26 primary and again for the general election in November.
Arizona teachers began with Walk-Ins on April 9th, then totally walked out and to the Arizona State Capitol on on April 26, wearing red T-shirts with #RedforEd. The strike lasted until May 3rd, ending with concessions that increased salaries for support staff and a decrease student to counselor ratios. Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ) conceded a 9 percent raise in 2019 and an overall increase of 20 percent by 2020.
The April 13th strike in Kentucky closed all districts as teachers pressured Republicans to override Governor Matt Bevins’ (R-KY) veto of a bill that would help close funding gaps in education. It was the Public Pension Overhaul Bill (SB 1), however, that fueled the walk-out, which would mean an extension to their retirement dates to fund their pensions.
To add insult to injury Governor Bevins said, “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them.” Really, Governor Bevin? Let’s say that if teachers had been treated fairly in the first place there wouldn’t have been a walk-out.
In Colorado, Senator Bob Gardner (R-CO) proposed Bill SB 264 that would fine and jail teachers for striking. The bill met its demise April 30 after the subcommittee withdrew it due to wide criticism, although Gardner says will consider re-submitting the bill in 2019. Just a day after Arizona teachers struck, Colorado followed on April 27th with a 16-day strike that resulted in a 2 percent pay raise and a promise of further discussion regarding similar issues of their pension and lack of funding. Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO) signed a $28.9 billion budget into law that would allocate $225 million to the state pension, and will increase K-12 education funding by $150 million annually. It should be noted that Colorado teachers salaries have dropped 17 percent since 2003. In 2009 Colorado amended its constitution to include funding for schools that was supposed to keep pace with inflation. The state has not met this requirement observing a $6.6 billion shortfall in funding.
North Carolina’s legislators met their day of reckoning in mid-May as teachers marched, demanding better pay and funding. Two-thirds of the districts were shuttered as a result. The NCAE stated it would like to see funding that is more in line with the national average, additional health workers, counselors and increased pay for all district employees and no additional tax cuts for corporations. Governor Roy Cooper (D-NC) is proposing an average 8 percent pay raise to meet the national average in fours years time. The budget proposal of $75 million would help lower class size and help with construction costs.
Save Public Education, Support Teachers, Care for the Future
What we know to be true about the kind of information provided by the OECD is that it can become weaponized and used in ways that work for or against education, and often as rhetoric for political campaigns. What’s most important here, what must be a core value as a nation is how we the public choose to filter and utilize this information for the benefit of our children’s education. Education must always be a top priority of our legislators. Teachers must always have the ear of our government. Teachers are on the frontline to the future. Teachers are building that future of creators and innovators. What’s in the best interest of the teachers, is in the best interest of our children, our communities and our nation. To respect and support our teachers is to respect and support our children.
“The sooner the progressive movement understands that, to save our democracy, people must rebuild robust unions—that means a strong embrace of teachers and education and public-service workers—the sooner we all start winning.”