THE SURPRISING success of last month’s strike by West Virginia’s teachers in securing overdue pay raises has emboldened teachers in several other states to launch walkouts and stage demonstrations. In Oklahoma, public schools were closed as teachers rallied at the state Capitol. In Kentucky, teachers who banded together to call in sick forced some classroom closures. Teachers in Arizona have threatened to go on strike.
When teachers walk out, children get hurt. Learning is interrupted and hard to make up, routines are upended as parents scramble for child care, and students who rely on school breakfasts and lunches go hungry. But in this case what the teachers are protesting also hurts children — that is, a long- running and systemic disinvestment in public education.
Responsibility therefore lies with the governors and legislatures in these red states who have allowed teacher salaries to get so low. Many educators say they have to take a second or third job just to get by, and effective teachers are driven out of the profession altogether. A West Virginia high school teacher told the New York Times her take-home pay was less than $650 a week, while another West Virginia teacher wrote in The Post about taking home less now than in 2012 because of increased premiums for public-employee insurance. They were among thousands of teachers who staged a nine-day walkout that led to legislation giving teachers, along with other public employees, a 5 percent raise.
But teachers are not protesting only their own inadequate paychecks. Cuts in state education funding have harmed school quality and equity. In Oklahoma, despite a booming economy, public schools have lost about 30 percent of their funding, adjusted for inflation, over the past decade. Facilities have deteriorated, and classrooms lack textbooks and other basic supplies. Some districts can afford to keep schools in session only four days a week.
The striking teachers have by and large gotten a sympathetic response from the public. That — and the fact that the teachers seem to have come together out of widespread frustration rather than organized union efforts — should be a further prod to lawmakers to start paying attention to long-neglected education needs. As that West Virginia teacher observed in The Post: “Someone in the state government needs to be the hero for education and realize that a great education system is the backbone of a great state.”