Photo courtesy of peoplesworld.org
By Joe Thorpe
For decades the American school teacher has been competing for attention among all other major cases of public deficiencies in society. Along all of those years requesting service, teachers employed education of their plight as the chief strategy in promoting the fulfillment of their desperate needs. The American public school is grossly underfunded, overcrowded, understaffed, and generally bereft of vital resources American children require for their education, physical well-being and mental health.
Local and Federal governments that fund the American public school system play hapless victims claiming there are no monies within the coffers to reform the education system. The empty cash register argument fails to recognize the full reality of how the American tax dollar is allocated.
Public education reform also faced the opposition of politically influential, corporate-backed installation of publicly funded private schools.
In 2012, some 26,000 teachers in Chicago left their classrooms. Teachers took to the streets demanding changes to teacher evaluations for pay raises, improved health insurance and an end to programs that would close much-needed schools that don’t meet high standardized test scores.
The strike ended after eight days of negotiations with the city. Many of the teacher’s demands were accomplished, and albeit with compromise, progress was made.
Chicago K-12 schools can be seen as amplified versions of the troubles that plague public education nationwide. According to a recent report by ‘CNN’, 9 out of 10 majority-black schools have no librarians, school nurses and social workers are responsible for several schools at one time meaning they must divide their days traveling from school to school only able to give the slightest attention to students who need their help. Class sizes swell with up to 50 students in one classroom, and pay for teachers and support staff remains stagnant and undercompensated.
These are not isolated issues. Since, the 2012 Chicago teacher’s strike, waves of other public educators have staged walkouts, sickouts, and full scale strikes. In 2019 teacher strikes nationwide are back in a big way.
Chicago educators are on strike again in October. Class sizes and understaffed schools are still unresolved from the 2012 strike. The Chicago strike was still ongoing at the time this article was written.
On January 14, 2019, 32,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest district in the nation, went on strike. The first official Los Angeles teacher’s strike in 30 years lasted six days. The results of the strike gained teachers several favorable outcomes: reduced class sizes by four students from grades four through twelve, a 6% raise in pay for all teachers, a full-time nurse for every school, and a librarian for every public middle school.
West Virginia teachers went on strike in 2018 and 2019 over low pay and high health insurance rates. This time the results of protest only garnered West Virginia teachers a 4% pay raise over the next three years and a 16-month freeze on health insurance premiums. The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, says the battle for public education in West Virginia is not solely a matter of available funding, but a political conflict for the soul of education.
“The state Senate is trying for a second time this year to ram through a so-called education bill that defunds public education, retaliates against teachers who stood up for their students last year, and appears to be driven by outside wealthy interests like Americans for Prosperity that, like [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos, want to eliminate public schools,” said Weingarten.
At the same time, as the February 2019 West Virginia strike, Denver’s public educators launched their strike demanding pay raises to keep up with cost of living increases, the reform of an unfair and imbalanced pay bonus system, and pay raises for support staff within the schools. Colorado ranks 46th in average teacher pay, according to the National Education Association. The strike lasted four days.
K-12 teachers in the Massachusetts town of Dedham went on strike on Friday morning Oct. 25. After two years of working with no contract between the Dedham Education Association and the school district, the teachers have suspended classes citing problems with health insurance, a lack of professional development days and insufficient policies toward sexual harassment.
In Massachusetts it is illegal for public employees to strike. Nevertheless, teachers in Dedham received immediate support with Representative Joseph Kennedy III visiting the informal headquarters of the strike within hours, and Democratic presidential nominee hopeful Bernie Sanders tweeting his support.
“Right now there is a movement of workers across the country who are taking back their power at a scale we have not seen in recent memory,’’ Sanders wrote. “I stand with educators in Dedham, Massachusetts. This takes courage.’’
Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona are among states where teachers are launching mass protests, striking over the same issues seen in Chicago, Colorado, West Virginia and Massachusetts.
None of the problems these district’s teachers are striking against are localized to their schools. These problems pervade nearly every school district in the country and grow disproportionately direct to income levels and the prevailing ethnicity of the district’s population.
The American school teacher is no longer accepting the rational theory that education, paramount to a society’s well-being, is going to be funded by informal pleas. Nay now is the time of demands.
Funding is a question of values—American values—where do our elected and appointed officials, who supposedly represent the American value system logistically, decide then to appropriate our funds if not in education? Misguided and misinformed war on everything campaigns: drugs, poverty, foreign adversaries; community police forces equipped to battle a full-scale uprising never fail to see increased funding annually. The appointed leaders of our nation almost unanimously present their true values time and again. American tax dollars line the pockets of corporations with weapons contracts while abandoning the institution of education to poverty.