Teachers’ Strikes Spread Across the Country in a Fight to Save Public Education
By Amzad Ali, age 14 and IndyKids Staff
In late August, teachers across 15 school districts in Washington state walked out on strike for nearly two weeks at the start of the school year. They demanded an increase in their salaries and hoped to bring attention to public school funding cuts, which affect poorer districts the most.
When the economic recession hit in 2008, public school budgets across the country were cut by as much as 30 percent in some states. As of 2015, after the economy had bounced back from the recession, 29 states still had less funding per student than they did in 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
“For my whole life I thought this was just the way it was, that I would have to struggle to have a sustainable life,” said Anna Cockrum, a teacher who joined the strikes in Washington state, to reporters at In These Times. “I teach students to stand up for themselves, and it is so cool to be living that.”
Washington state is not alone. This spring, strikes, walkouts and rallies took place in Oklahoma, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky and North Carolina. Many were inspired by teachers in West Virginia, who led a nine-day strike in February 2018 that shut down public schools across the state’s fifty five districts until their demands were heard.
The teachers in West Virginia were part of a union and participated in a walkout, which is a form of political protest. The reason for the strike was to make the school board and other lawmakers aware of the low teacher wages and the high cost of health insurance for teachers statewide. The strike took two months to plan and coordinate, and after nine days the state agreed to increase salaries by five percent.
In April, 75,000 members of the Arizona Education Association (AEA) held one of the largest educator walkouts in U.S. history in Phoenix. According to the CBPP, Arizona cut its public education funding between 2008 and 2015 by 36.6 percent, more than any other state. “We need to bring the change our students and families need,” said AEA member Noah Karvelis to reporters. “We have kids sitting in broken desks, studying out of 25-year-old textbooks in rooms with leaky ceilings. This is unacceptable.”
United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is the second largest teachers’ union in the country, representing more than 33,000 educators. Teachers in Los Angeles might be the next to call a strike, with demands for a 6.5 percent raise as well as a call to hire more teachers to reduce class sizes and hire more school staff. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Arlene Inouye is the secretary for UTLA. “A strike requires taking a risk,” she told Jacobin. “But when our members saw that other educators went on illegal strikes and won, it made a big impact. And they saw that the other strikes weren’t just about salaries: they were also about saving public education.”
Recession: A drop in the growth of an economy that lasts a significant time.