A couple weeks ago, we were truly inspired by the West Virginia teachers strike. And now, in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, teachers are continuing to fight for what they are worth.
Similar to conditions in West Virginia, in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, teachers and students are struggling in perpetually underfunded and under supported public schools. Also similar to West Virginia, teachers in these states have been able to take action in large part because of the connections forged through public sector unions, despite state laws that make organizing conditions incredibly challenging. And it comes as no surprise that as in West Virginia, teachers across these three states are more than 75 percent women.
In the last ten years, Oklahoma has cut its education funding per student by 28 percent, the largest percentage of any state cuts in the country. And Kentucky is not far behind, cutting per student education funding by 16 percent since 2008. Arizona students have faced cuts of 14 percent in the last ten years, and West Virginia students have suffered from 11 percent cuts. These shocking numbers mean that in all of these states, total state funding per student was lower in the 2015 school year than in the 2008 school year. And it’s not just state funding for schools that has suffered, but teacher pay as well. A recent analysis shows that from 1996-2015, teacher pay fell by $30 per week, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124 per week. Teachers overall in the United States earn just 77 percent of what other college graduates earn in weekly wages.
With conditions continuing to deteriorate, Oklahoma teachers staged a strike starting Monday, April 2, rejecting a $6,000 raise from the legislature. Thousands of public school teachers in Oklahoma flooded the Capitol building, and other actions are happening statewide, including 100 teachers marching 110 miles from Tulsa to the state Capitol. And now, teachers have vowed to extend the strike, demanding $200 million in increased annual education funding.
In Kentucky, teachers are fighting for a 20 percent salary increase and against further budget cuts and attacks on teacher pensions. Actions began on March 30 with a “sick-out” that forced many districts to close, and continued the following Monday, when every public school in Kentucky closed as teachers protested at the state Capitol against Republican attacks on pensions. Protests continued into Tuesday and there are rumblings of another “sick-out” on the horizon.
And in Arizona, which ranks 49th in average teacher pay for elementary school teachers (Oklahoma is 50th!), teachers rallied at their schools in a “walk-in” protesting for higher wages and classroom funding.
Just as in West Virginia, we salute these teachers across the country taking bold and unapologetic action to demand that the institutions we depend on do not fail us, or future generations. These women know what they are worth – and so do we.