Teachers in other red states saw what was happening and decided to do something exceedingly rare for teachers — stand up for themselves — and they struck, too, in Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and other places, and managed to win financial concessions from state legislators.
Now, in three of those states, Republican-led legislatures are retaliating, trying to pass bills that would make teachers' working lives more difficult. Here’s what’s happening:
More than 22,000 West Virginia teachers walked out en masse on Feb. 22, 2018, closing schools in every county for the first time in nearly 30 years. They demanded higher pay and lower health-care costs in a place where many teachers have had to take second jobs to pay their bills.
With the state ranking 48th in average teacher salaries in 2016, according to National Education Association data, legislators finally agreed to a 5 percent pay raise — less than the teachers were seeking — while offering no promise on relief for health-care costs. The teachers returned to class March 7.
West Virginia legislators are taking steps that teachers strongly oppose. In a budget bill the legislature is fast-tracking, teacher raises and funding for the health-care system for state employees would be tied to provisions including:
- Increasing class sizes.
- Denying pay during future strikes.
- Support for “school choice” in the form of charter schools and a program to use public money for private and religious-school education.
The state’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, who opposed last year’s strike, said he would veto such a bill, but that won’t stop the legislature from trying.
Oklahoma teachers walked out April 2 demanding higher pay and more resources for schools in a state where tax cuts have slashed public spending on education. They returned to class 10 days later after winning raises and additional school funding, but did not win everything they wanted. Some teachers opposed ending the strike.
Now, bills in the legislature seek to ensure that teachers never strike again.
S.B. 592 would require any organized protest of 100 or more people at the state Capitol to pay $50,000 in advance to the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, the state agency that provides bond funding for government office buildings.
H.B. 2214 would make it illegal for any “board of education or school district employee . . . to strike or threaten to strike or otherwise close schools or interfere with school operations as a means of resolving differences with the board of education, the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Legislature or any other public official or public body.”
And it seeks to deny pay to any teacher participating in a strike or related school shutdown while the striker is out and would have the person’s State Board of Education-issued certificate “permanently revoked.”
Arizona teachers walked out for five days starting April 26, demanding pay raises and more money for support staff and for public schools. They also sought smaller classes. They won a 19 percent raise over several years but did not get most other demands.
Here’s what’s happening now:
A bill in the Arizona House, H.B. 2002, would require the State Board of Education to adopt a “code of ethics” for teachers that calls for an explicit ban on politics in public schools. The language is nearly identical to a proposed code advanced by the ultraconservative David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Another bill, H.B. 2017, is aimed at preventing another strike and prohibits public schools from shutting down except during approved breaks, holidays or during a national or environmental emergency. An accompanying bill would require the state’s attorney general to investigate a school district or employee accused of violating state law.
H.B. 1232 would prohibit payroll deductions for union dues for school district, local government and state employees — but, it is worth noting, firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers would be exempt from the ban on payroll deductions.