Thousands of teachers in Oklahoma walked out of their classes on Tuesday on the second day of a strike, demanding the state put more funding into public education. Teachers across 29 districts in Kentucky staged a "sickout" at the state capitol on Friday, protesting a proposed reduction to their retirement benefits. In Arizona, they are rallying for higher wages and threatening to strike if they don't get a pay raise. In West Virginia, teachers staged a strike last month that won them a 5% pay increase — and helped launch the rest of the uprisings.
The latest in the wave of red-state strikes, the Oklahoma walkout led to school closings in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, affecting around 500,000 of the state's 700,000 public-school students. About 30,000 teachers participated, calling for a tax package that would raise another $200 million for the state school budget. The Oklahoma legislature has been cutting school funds for years, with one report showing that per-student funding has fallen by over 30% in the past decade.
The average teacher's salary in Oklahoma was $45,000 a year in 2016, which puts the state in 49th place in the country, according to the National Education Association. West Virginia ranks 48th. More than three-quarters of public school teachers are women, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, so it's sadly no surprise that teachers are underpaid.
"I think if you looked at these disproportionately female professions, like teaching, people have basically been exploited for years because they care about kids," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the unions representing the teachers in West Virginia, told USA Today.
Rae Lovelace, a third-grade teacher, put it this way: "If I didn’t have a second job, I’d be on food stamps."
But it's not just about salaries for the striking educators. Budget cuts are keeping students from learning, since schools are forced to use damaged or outdated textbooks — and some have even shortened their weeks from five to four days. (Not to mention the broken heaters and other dilapidated facilities.)