May 6, 2018
State-wide teacher strikes are rolling across the country. What started in West Virginia spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, and now to Arizona and Colorado. In every one of these states, all or most of the school districts were closed for up to nine days. Tens of thousands of teachers, support personnel, and other school workers descended on state capitals in massive demonstrations of determination and solidarity.
In every one of these states, the teachers made it clear that they are not just demanding pay raises or pensions for themselves. They also demanded pay raises and protections for all school employees and even other public sector workers.
And in every state, the fight has included demands for increased school funding to improve the quality of education for the students. Striking teachers and other school employees have reached out to students, parents and the communities, making it clear that this is a fight of ALL working people for a better education and a better life.
These revolts follow decades of nationwide attacks against public education. George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” was followed by Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top.” Both programs blamed teachers for the low quality of public education – scapegoating them in an attempt to hide the real problem: the fact that governments in every state and on the federal level have been cutting school funding for decades.
Especially after the financial melt-down of 2008, the federal government and state legislatures passed massive tax breaks for corporations, gutting state budgets across the country. They cut pay for public workers, and cut school budgets to pay for what they gave away to the corporations. This was nothing more than a way to make working people pay the price – not only government employees, but everyone who relies on government services, from roads to sanitation to, yes, public schools.
Whether states were led by Republicans or Democrats, public services were slashed and education cut to the bone.
This is why teachers, parents and students have been fighting back.
In one sense, their strikes have been successful: they forced administrators to give what state governments previously refused even to consider. West Virginia teachers and public sector workers got five percent raises and an increase in the state school budget. Oklahoma teachers got a $6,000 raise, while other public workers got $1,200; and the school budget was increased by 50 billion dollars, partially paid for by small increases in corporate tax rates.
Arizona teachers won a 20 percent raise over several years, and a vague promise of a school budget increase. Colorado teachers demonstrated several times for the same thing – raises in pay, plus increases in funding for public schools.
Because teachers were ready to strike, they gained something. And yet, what they won is nowhere near enough. The funding of the schools still remains deficient. So the fight has only begun.
The problem of bad schools is not just in one school system or one state. States across the country have been doling out money to Wall Street banks and the corporations, taking money from the schools to do it.
In order to give the schools what is needed, we will have to take back the money all of those sharks have been stealing in every state.
Those fights in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado are only the beginning. But they show something very important – which is, that workers are doing what many people thought impossible. The teachers are fighting not only across a whole state, but in many states; they bring everyone into the fight, union and non-union. They bring in parents, other workers, students. They make it a fight of all working people. What they started can keep going – it can extend from teachers to others who work for their living, to the whole working class.