Public K-12 school educators in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma went on strike on April 2 to demand higher pay and better funding for public schools.
Teachers walked off campus during school hours and flooded official government buildings forcing some schools to cancel classes.
Though the movement has been called a strike by multiple news outlets, these teachers are participating in walkouts.
According to Preston Rudy, President of the California Faculty Association, it is illegal for teachers in those states to strike because unions are illegal there.
“Oklahoma is a ‘right to work’ state,” Rudy said. “This allows states to pass laws that prevent workers from forming unions.”
One of the outcomes of “right to work” states is it puts significant workplace strain on employees because workers have no place to voice their concerns. Rudy said human resource departments are known to show deference to management, which neglects the employee’s needs.
So as a last resort, teachers chose to walkout.
“Organizers have to build a full head of steam because if you go on strike, you can get fired,” Rudy said.
These teachers are using the strength in numbers mentality to bypass the “right to work” provisions that prevent them from organizing or striking. This tactic is designed to convince administrators they can’t justifiably fire all teachers that walked out if they all choose to stand together.
“Interestingly, administrators in West Virginia permitted their teachers to go out,” Rudy said. “Because there is more of a pervasive sense that schools are in real trouble.”
Most public schools get their funding from local property tax.
According to American Progress Action, West Virginia and Kentucky rank among the top ten poorest states in America.
This means public schools suffer because taxes have been stretched beyond its means to support other public services.
The solution to raise taxes would only work if constituents could afford it. However, the fact they can’t and that it continues to be presented as a solution is seen as a problem by many.
“There’s a drumbeat about taxes being too high,” Rudy said. “All of that leads to a climate of attacking public budgets — and therefore teachers.”
The collective public attention geared toward struggling educators has fellow state officials looking at how public schools are funded and how teachers are compensated.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Bay Area housing crisis is responsible for driving teachers out to other states such as Texas, where educators make a decent wage and cost of living is low.
The current salary levels for teachers in the Bay Area are so low many can’t afford to live in or near the districts where they teach.
Even teachers in San Francisco, who are among the highest paid, still can’t afford 99 percent of houses in the city.
Alice Nguyen, a kindergarten teacher at Challenger School in San Jose, witnessed the struggle most teachers face when trying to live and teach in the Bay Area.
“It makes me sad,” Nguyen said. “I feel that a teacher is a position that someone actually chooses as opposed to just choosing a job that pays the bills.”
This sentiment is echoed by fellow educators who struggle to reconcile the importance of teaching with earning a non-livable wage.
Physical education teacher James Vaihola teaches at Parkside Elementary and said only one month in the summer is paid, so he works additional part-time jobs to make up the difference.
“Rent in San Mateo is outrageous, so it’s not about the money,” Vaihola said. “For me, it’s all about the kids. Playing and teaching them sports is the real reward.”