Angela Green teaches kindergarten at Mill Creek Elementary School in Shively, Kentucky. Ninety percent of the students are eligible for subsidized lunches, and school budgets can be tight. That’s why, as she says, “Any time we’re going to be doing anything special, all the materials are bought by me. Poster board, art supplies, I buy them all. I buy Play-Doh and books for my library in class.”
Stories like Green’s explain why teachers across the country are taking action for raises, respect for themselves, and more resources for their students. They’re encouraged by the successful strike initiated by West Virginia teachers, and they’re restless because, across the country, teachers’ pay is falling or flat-lining while their health insurance costs are increasing.
- Fighting Pension Cuts in Kentucky. Kentucky teachers have rallied at the State Capitol against pension cuts proposed by the Republican-controlled state Senate. And they were outraged when GOP Governor Matt Bevin called the state’s teachers, whose service and self-sacrifice are exemplified by Angela Green, “selfish and short-sighted.”
- Ten Years Without Raises Not Okay in OK. After 10 years without pay raises, Oklahoma teachers have warned they’ll strike on April 2 if the state legislature doesn’t act. Lilly Lyon, a junior high school Spanish teacher, sent legislators nine years of pay stubs, explaining that, because of her stagnant salary, “I work two jobs after school, and I have a roommate who shares my house expenses.”
- Addressing Health Insurance Costs in NJ. Some 3,100 teachers in Jersey City went back to work after a one-day strike now that the school system has agreed to address rising health insurance costs.
Billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has never taught in, administered, attended, or sent her kids to public schools. And yet, despite her inexperience, she has attacked the nation’s public schools, the teachers—and now, the career employees at her own department.
- My Way or the Highway. Public school parents and teachers shouldn’t be surprised by the contempt that DeVos’ management team has shown almost 4,000 federal employees working for the Education Department across the country. The department was supposed to renegotiate an agreement with the employees’ union—the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 252. But management sidestepped the union’s request to meet in person and recently declared that it would not negotiate but would instead simply impose its own terms.
- Imposing an ‘Agreement.’ Management called its new 40-page rulebook a “collective bargaining agreement” and even put AFGE’s logo on the cover without its consent. But the employees never agreed to the so-called contract’s removal of their rights on workplace health and safety, telecommuting, and family-friendly work schedules. That’s why the union declared that this misnamed “collective bargaining agreement” isn’t collective, didn’t result from bargaining, and isn’t an agreement.
Subverting the Law. By imposing an agreement, DeVos’ management team subverted the process that Congress established by law 40 years ago and that has been followed by Democratic and Republican administrations. While the union is legally required to represent all employees, whether or not they pay dues, the Education Department has taken away the union’s office space and equipment. And the union’s local leaders have been locked out of the information system and are unable to access files and documents.
Teresa Danks, a third grade teacher in Tulsa, spends $2,000 to $3,000 of her own money every year to buy supplies for her students. Last summer, she stood on a street corner with a sign, which read, “Teacher needs school supplies. Anything helps.” Now, she’s joined 50,000 Oklahoma educators—who haven’t had a raise in 10 years—and their supporters in a Facebook group calling for a statewide walkout unless the legislature meets their needs.
Encouraged by West Virginia teachers’ successful strike, educators across the country are demanding raises and resources for their students, especially in states that shortchange their schools.
Winning in West Virginia. After the nine-day strike by teachers in all 55 counties, educators and public employees won a five percent raise. Now, they’re urging the legislature not to cut Medicaid to fund the agreement.
Mobilizing Nationally. Tulsa teachers are working only the seven hours and 50 minutes required by their contract. The Oklahoma Education Association has warned that teachers will strike by April 1 if the legislature doesn’t fund a teacher pay raise and classroom needs.
- In Arizona, teachers wore red to demand the state devote a $170 million revenue windfall to 5 percent raises for educators whose salaries are 7th-lowest in the nation.
- The Kentucky Education Association rallied teachers at the State Capitol to demand full funding for public pensions.
Fighting for Full & Fair Funding. Most states slashed school funding during the Great Recession and still haven’t fully restored these cuts. Additionally, teachers in many states are fighting corporate tax cuts, which caused a $425 million deficit in West Virginia.
Working with Communities. Students bring problems to school, including family poverty, opioid addiction, and gun violence. That’s one more reason why teachers deserve higher pay, and also why educators are working with communities, exemplified by the American Federation of Teachers’ partnership to tackle poverty in McDowell County, West Virginia, called “Reconnecting McDowell.”
Fed up with low pay, health insurance rate hikes, and swelling class sizes, West Virginia teachers have walked off their jobs in every public school in all 55 counties. Organized by local teachers and without formal bargaining rights, the strike spotlights the need for more resources for students and educators.
Teachers Care, Politicians Not So Much: West Virginia ranks 48th in workers’ incomes. But political and economic elites, led by the billionaire Governor Jim Justice, have failed to invest in educating a skilled workforce to attract businesses and jobs.
- With teacher salaries trailing all but two states (and some educators on Food Stamps), the governor and state legislature balked at raising teachers’ pay, while trying to raise their healthcare costs, prompting the walkout.
- Some 700 teaching positions are vacant, and math and science are suffering, leaving several positions to be filled by unqualified teachers.
- These reasons explain why, as Melanie Slack, an elementary school teacher in Martinsburg, explained: “We want to be in our classroom. I love my kids… But sometimes, you’ve got to stand for something.”
Communities & Teachers Together. With many families relying on the schools to feed and care for their kids as well as educate them, the bonds between teachers and their communities are closer than ever.
- As Brandy Gilbert, a public school parent in Martinsburg, said, “I was just actually telling a few of the teachers outside that some of the kids should be out there with them. Because it not only affects the teachers, it’s affecting the students as well.”
- In many communities, teachers are making sure that students and families can pick up food during the stoppage.
In McDowell County—the poorest county in the state—the American Federation of Teachers is leading a community partnership to address poverty and economic decline. Through the “Blessings in a Backpack” program, local teachers are continuing to provide packages of food to their students.
Billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos never taught in, administered, attended, or sent her kids to public schools. While she deserves an “incomplete” in experience, the Trump administration’s budget gets an “F” for failing kids from pre-K through college.
Shortchanging Public Schools. With the biggest reductions in 30 years, the budget cuts $13 billion for Head Start preschools, $1.2 billion from afterschool programs, and $2 billion from recruiting, preparing, retaining, and paying public school teachers. These cuts mean larger class sizes, fewer resources for teachers, and greater turnover of experienced educators.
Subsidizing Private Schools. Meanwhile, the budget pours $500 million more into DeVos’ and Trump’s real priority: subsidies for parents paying private-school tuitions.
College for Rich Kids Only? The budget makes it much more difficult for working families to send their kids to college:
- Cutting about $200 billion from student aid programs over 10 years;
- Eliminating the subsidized student loan program;
- Freezing “Pell Grants” for almost 8 million low-income kids; and,
- Getting rid of student-loan forgiveness for young people who promise to take public service jobs.