On April 26, teachers in Colorado and Arizona walked out of their school districts to protest pay and budget cuts. The movement for better school funding has swept the nation, beginning with West Virginia earlier this year and joined by Oklahoma and Kentucky earlier in April. As teacher walkouts quickly become a normal occurrence in the country, many wonder how we got to this point.
The teachers are protesting poor educational funding and a general lack of concern for their work. Tax cuts in states like Arizona have left little room in the budget for teachers, who are working with pre-recession level funding. #RedforEd is a common sight in the Republican state, where conservative voters are fighting for an end to tax cuts in order to properly fund public education. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey resisted, claiming he could deliver a 20 percent raise by 2020 without raising taxes. Both teachers and lawmakers didn’t believe him. It’s worth noting that Ducey is Republican.
Noah Karvelis, an elementary school music teacher and leader of Arizona’s #RedforEd movement, told The New York Times that many teachers “don’t have faith” in workers’ unions. He also said that younger teachers were “primed” for activism after the tumultuous election of President Donald Trump, Betsy Devos’ appointment to Secretary of Education and the activism seen in some of their students with the “March For Our Lives” movement after the Parkland school shooting.
The rise of political involvement has many politicians worrying about this year’s midterm elections. Many impassioned teachers are voting in midterm elections they ignored in previous cycles, hoping to improve the lives of educators and students state by state. While Republican legislators and governors find themselves in hot water, the Democratic party is trying to capitalize on the movement. According to The New York Times, the Democratic National Committee plans to register voters at teacher rallies in hopes of bringing more people to the ballots.
The starting salary for teachers in Arizona is $35,000 a year, barely enough to support themselves and pay off student loans at the same time. Arizona’s average for teachers’ salaries has decreased by 10 percent in the past 20 years. Colorado has also seen a decrease of 15 percent. Teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma are not much better off, earning almost the same salary they did 20 years ago. In 2000, an Oklahoma teacher’s $44,861 salary had as much buying power as $66,322 does today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s CPI Inflation calculator. The teacher’s salary in Oklahoma in 2017 was $45,245.
Tax cuts and education funding that fail to reflect the country we live in are nothing short of a crime. Republican states have drained their educational budgets year after year in the form of tax cuts, hurting their working constituents and ignoring the needs of millions of children in the public school system. Teachers, bus drivers and other underappreciated staff in the education system deserve a wage they can live and support their families on, without having to work a second or third job just to make ends meet.