Why are Teachers Having to Protest for Adequate Pay?

: Marian Cook
Marian Cook

From West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona, there have been teacher protests for increased pay and school funding.

On Feb. 22, West Virginia teachers began a nine-day strike after Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that would give teachers a 2 percent raise starting in July, and an additional 1 percent in 2020 and 2021. But for teachers, this was not enough. K-12 schools in 55 counties across West Virginia remained closed until West Virginia lawmakers decided to grant teachers a 5 percent raise.

On March 3, Kentucky teachers went on strike to protest Gov. Matt Bevin’s approval of a new pension bill. Then, Bevin angered Kentucky teachers again by vetoing a two-year state budget that would increase school funding by a $480 million tax increase. Kentucky teachers responded by traveling to the state Capitol to protest, and on April 13, Republican lawmakers voted to override Bevin’s veto.

Similar to West Virginia, Oklahoma teachers began a nine-day strike on April 2, but their efforts weren’t as successful. Their strike ended with a $6,000 raise, a $1,250 raise for school support staff and a $50 million increase in school funding--the same figures they had been granted before the strike began. They had hoped for a $10,000 raise for themselves, a $6,000 raise for school support staff and a $200 million increase in school funding.

On April 11, Arizona teachers held a state-wide “walk-in” to demand a 20 percent raise and more school funding. A day later, Gov. Doug Ducey promised teachers that it would be accomplished over the next two years, along with the restoration of $1 billion in school funding that was cut during the recession.

Many, though, still don’t realize the urgency of the situation. A 2017 report by the National Education Association (NEA) found that the average pay for a U.S. public school teacher was $58,353 for 2015-16. In 2016, West Virginia teachers were paid an average of $45,622, making them 48th in the nation for teacher pay.

As for Oklahoma, its teachers were paid an average of $45,276 in 2016, making them 49th in the nation for teacher pay. Oklahoma teachers also haven’t had a raise in ten years since Oklahoma lawmakers began tax cuts in 2009. They envisioned an economic boom, but instead created an annual revenue loss of $1.5 billion. To fix things, state funding was cut in several areas, including education. Now, about 20 percent of Oklahoma’s public schools have a four-day school week.

And in Arizona, teachers were paid an average of $47,218 in 2016, making them 43rd in the nation for teacher pay. In addition, a 2017 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Arizona had the highest cuts (-36.6 percent) to state funding per student in 2015 compared to that of 2008--when the recession began.

That same study found that Kentucky has the third highest current cuts (-15.8 percent) to general aid per student compared to 2008. Oklahoma is first with -28.2 percent, West Virginia is sixth with -11.4 percent and Alabama is fourth with -15.3 percent. Alabama teachers have also had their pay cut by 8.3 percent since 2009, according to the NEA.

Considering the overwhelming data that supports the grievances of teachers across the nation, many are left wondering why lawmakers are still debating whether or not to increase teacher salaries and school funding. The answer lies in the fact that America has put education on the back burner. State and federal representatives ignore its importance and teachers.

The U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos certainly hasn’t helped the situation. Consider her limited experience with public education and her 60 minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, where Stahl pointed out the fact that Michigan schools are underperforming. DeVos responded by stating, “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” Isn’t it her job to find out why they’re underperforming?

Many forget that teachers work long hours, about 53.3 hours a week to be exact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics--the same study also found that 62.4 percent of teachers in 2015-16 had to take on extra jobs for extra money. Further, teachers don’t have paid summer vacations, instead their paychecks are allocated. Many also pay for their own classroom supplies, spending $530 on average, according to a 2016 study by Scholastic.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the number of teachers are dwindling. There’s no allure to a profession that is so vital, yet so underappreciated, unless you’re a highly dedicated teacher--which many are. In the end, why should teachers have to protest for adequate pay when their role is so blatantly important?

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