Inspired by the walkouts in West Virginia that lead to pay raises, teachers are striking in Oklahoma and Kentucky right now and other states might join in, too. Last month, teachers shut school down for two whole weeks in West Virginia as a result of their strike for higher pay and more health insurance. What was so surprising to some people watching was that teachers there didn’t wait for their union to negotiate for them or plan the walkout officially. Instead, teachers in these mostly Republican states organized themselves on Facebook and ended up with a 5 percent raise and a freeze on their insurance costs. This kind of mass, grassroots activism should make legislators in other states that exploit teachers nervous.
In West Virginia, the average salary of a teacher who doesn’t have labor a contract with the state is about $45,000, the lowest in the country. A new health care plan was going to be implemented this summer and cost them more. As well as being totally ridiculous, part of this plan included downloading an app to their phone that tracked their steps. If teachers didn’t get enough steps in a certain period of time, they would be penalized $500. Can you imagine being told that your health care plan was contingent on making it to the gym or finding a time to work out every day? It’s no wonder the teachers were fed up enough to walk out.
After a deal was decided on, Renita Benson, 54, a remedial reading teacher from Calhoun County, told the New York Times, “It’s not the raise, as much as it is having the respect that we deserve from the government, and I think that was proven today.” Giving teachers the respect they deserve by funding schools and bumping their salaries means kids will do better in school. Who doesn’t want to get behind that?
After the success in West Virginia, organizers are focusing their efforts on Oklahoma, where teachers are staging walkouts for more pay, too. Oklahoma teachers also make on average about $45,000, and they haven’t had a raise in ten years. The governor signed a pay raise of about $6,000 for teachers last week (funded by raising taxes on cigarettes and fuel), but teachers didn’t feel like it was enough. So they walked out, after organizing themselves, again, on Facebook.
It’s not just about making more money — it’s about getting the support they need.
Much like in West Virginia, Oklahoma’s teacher walkouts are also about valuing teachers and what they contribute to society. They’re the ones educating, and in a way, helping to raise children. We can spare a few textbooks and crayons for that, right? Charities like Donors Choose and GoFundMe provide great resources for educators, but our education system shouldn’t be dependent on donations and the kindness of strangers.
One teacher, according to NBC, held a sign up at the Oklahoma walkout that read “$5,655,” which was the amount of money she spent on supplies for her classroom in the past two years. Others complained of having 40 to 50 kids in a classroom. On social media, Oklahoma teachers are posting pictures of their textbooks on social media and some of them look like they’re actually decades old. Jason Simeroth, the superintendent of schools in Yukon, Oklahoma, told MSNBC that it would cost $1 million to replace the outdated math textbooks in his district. And that’s just his district.
In Kentucky, educators organized themselves, too, collectively calling out of work when the state passed a bill changing their pension plan. On average, they make about $52,000 a year. A Republican-backed bill changed their benefit plan to a 401(k)-style savings plan and restricted how sick leave payments would affect retirement payouts. Hundreds of schools are closed.
Although they haven’t shut down schools yet, about 2,500 educators in Arizona protested last week, demanding a 20 percent raise. (The state is offering them just one percent.) They make, on average, about $47,000 a year and face the same issues teachers face elsewhere in the nation. It’s very likely that it will be the next state to organize and shut schools down until the state legislature meets their demands.
Often, some people like to criticize strikes like these, blaming teachers for asking for “more” and keeping kids out of school. Back in 2012, there were many criticisms of the Chicago teachers strike (and the strikers were mostly women of color, which might have had something to do with it), but this time around, the teacher strikes are drawing more public support, which might be a sign that they’re on to something.
All of these strikes and walkouts are happening in Republican states that are loathe to spend money on anything, especially education. The strikers are challenging both the GOP and Democrats who slept on organized labor. Candidates running in 2018 and 2020 are hopefully paying attention, because teachers aren’t going to stop until they get what they need. Dale Lee, President West Virginia Education Association told CBS 13:
While it’s likely difficult for parents to juggle child care and their jobs while kids are out of school because of teacher strikes, the cause is a good one. Teachers, and kids, definitely deserve better.