Why Teachers Are in Revolt?

Dear Commons Community,

This year has seen teacher activism in a number of states such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina.  The New York Times has an analysis of school spending that demonstrates that cutbacks especially in Republican Party-controlled states has spurred this activism.  The chart above demonstrates that K-12 per pupil spending on public education has yet to recover its funding from the years prior to the Great Recession in 2008.  Here is an excerpt from the analysis:

”…the underlying conflict between public school employees and policymakers has roots in decisions made during the last recession, when states and local districts short of cash curtailed education spending for the first time in decades.

This had a pronounced effect on school staffing, with layoffs hitting many states. Districts cut support staff as well as regular classroom teachers. In North Carolina, the number of teachers is down 5 percent since peaking in 2009, while the number of teaching assistants is 28 percent lower. And teacher pay stagnated nonetheless.

Moreover, the recovery that has lifted the private economy has not quite restored school spending to pre-recession levels, especially in states run by fiscal conservatives determined to hold the line on government spending.

For a system that had experienced nothing but spending growth for a quarter century, the past few years have been a major shock. K-12 spending per pupil rose 26 out of 29 years before 2010, only to tumble three consecutive years at the beginning of this decade.

“Per-pupil spending went up forever,” says Matthew Chingos, director of the Urban Institute’s education policy program.

One reason for the consistent rise was a movement in education to reduce class sizes by adding teachers, and to provide more social services beyond basic instruction…

…Then came a one-two punch to the growth in education spending: The recession worsened financial problems already widespread in many states, and voters began electing conservative governors and legislatures that promised to rein in budget woes with spending cuts.

Almost every state reduced education spending during the recession. But as the national economy recovered, education spending did not return to the historical pattern of steady growth across all states. By 2016, more than half of states controlled by Democrats had restored education spending per pupil to 2009 levels, but the same was true in only 5 of 22 states controlled by Republicans…

… It now seems the pendulum is swinging toward spending growth in states that had been lagging.

Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma protested and won a pay raise. Pressure from educators spurred the Kentucky legislature to block the governor from vetoing the budget. And in Georgia, political pressure forced leaders to fully fund the state aid formula for the first time in years.

Attention has turned to North Carolina, where thousands of teachers protested at the opening of the state legislative session. North Carolina teachers once ranked 19th in the nation in pay, but now rank 37th.”

It is likely that given the successes in states like West Virginia and Oklahoma, teacher unions will maintain pressure on those states that underspend for education.  We will see continued activism throughout the reminder of this year and into 2019.


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