It has been called the “Teachers’ Spring” in the United States, with educators from five states staging an unprecedented wave of protests demanding increases in pay and school budgets. Encouraged by progressive resistance to President Donald Trump and the #MeToo movement, the protests by the nation’s teachers, more than three-quarters of whom are women, mark the first statewide walkouts since the 1990s.
Some educators have likened their movement to the “Arab Spring”, a series of anti-government uprisings that hit Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East beginning in 2010.
The movement has already prompted lawmakers to allocate pay increases for teachers and more money for schools in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Colorado, while Arizona’s legislature is also trying to hammer out a deal.
The strikes started in West Virginia in February and then spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, all of them Republican-controlled states that put limits on education spending during the 2007-2009 recession and never fully removed them. Teachers in Colorado, which has a Democratic governor, walked out last week.
According to the National Education Association, a group representing public schoolteachers nationwide, the average teacher salary in the United States decreased by four per cent from 2008/09 to 2017/18, after inflation adjustment.
The West Virginia strike, which shut schools for almost two weeks, ended with a five per cent pay raise.
Teachers in Oklahoma returned to classrooms after the legislature passed its first major tax increases in a quarter century, raising about $450 million in revenue for education.
Arizona teachers have sought a 20 per cent pay rise.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey last Friday announced a deal with state legislative leaders to raise teachers’ pay 20 per cent by 2020, but it was unclear how the money would be raised.
Teachers’ demands for pay increases have gained widespread public support and won bi-partisan attention from legislators ahead of November midterm elections.
But conservative groups, who oppose education funding increases through tax increases, point to data from education reform group EdChoice showing that nationwide, per-pupil funding adjusted for inflation rose 27 per cent between 1992 and 2014 as schools added ranks of non-teaching support staff. — Reuters