Teachers strike against austerity

2018 has been the year of the teachers’ strike. West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma teachers have walked off the job and won major victories for public education.

On April 26, teachers and education support employees in Arizona and Colorado joined the strike movement.

In Arizona striking teachers and their supporters marched through downtown Phoenix to the state capitol in 100 degree weather to demand more funding for public education.

Defying a threat of arrest, Colorado teachers walked off the job and rallied in Denver, the state capital, for more funding for public education.

Teacher strikes haven’t been confined to the US. On April 16, teachers in Tunisia began a strike that affected the country’s high schools and colleges.

Tunisian teachers are also demanding more funding for the country’s public schools.

These strikes and the ones that came before them have one thing in common: they are all demanding an end to their governments’ austerity policies that for the last ten years have cut public education funding and funding for other public services.

In Arizona, teachers created the #RedforEd movement to restore public education funding.

Wearing their red t-shirts, an estimated 75,000 teachers, school support staff, and public education supporters flooded the streets of Phoenix on their way from a downtown baseball field to the state capitol.

They came to town to demand that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and state lawmakers restore more than $1 billion cut from the state’s education budget over the last ten years.

In a letter to Gov. Ducey, the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United describe some of the challenges their students face because of the state’s austerity measures.

“Our classrooms go without updated textbooks, basic supplies, and technology,” states the letter. “We have among the highest class sizes and school counselor ratios in the nation making it difficult to meet the individual needs of students.”

In addition, school buildings and school buses are not being repaired creating dangerous conditions for learning.

Since Arizona began cutting its education budget, spending per student has dropped to $7500 per student, the third lowest rate of spending per pupil among all states in the US.

Teachers want Gov. Ducey to increase education funding per pupil, so that it rises to the national average.

Cuts to the education budget have also resulted in stagnant teacher pay causing an exodus of qualified teachers, and a dearth of new teachers to take their place, leading to a teacher shortage and overcrowded classrooms.

Teachers are demanding a 20 percent pay increase, so that local school districts can retain experienced, quality educators and attract qualified newcomers to the profession.

Additionally, they want a competitive pay raise for school support staff, whose services play a vital role in the education of the state’s children.

Before the strike began and after teachers announced their decision to strike, Gov. Ducey tried to dissuade them by offering teachers a 20 percent pay increase.

Teachers rejected his proposal because it wouldn’t do anything about lowering class sizes or fixing local districts’ dilapidated infrastructure and because the governor proposed to funding the raises by taking money from state programs that serve low-income children and their families.

Like the #RedforEd movement in Arizona, the Colorado teachers’ #WeAreRed movement is fighting to restore money slashed from education budgets.

According to the Colorado Education Association, (CEA) these cuts have resulted in an $828 million under funding of Colorado’s public schools this year.

This year’s education funding deficit isn’t unique. For year, the state has scrimped on funding education.

As a result, teacher pay has not kept up with increases in the cost of living. CEA reports that over the last 15 years, teacher pay has been reduced by 17 percent when adjusted for inf lation.

Teachers in Colorado are also mad at the attempt by some lawmakers to undermine their pensions.

Legilslation was introduced this session to expand defined contribution retirement plans at the expense of teachers’ more traditional defined benefit pensions.

A mass mobilization of teachers and other education employees eliminated this proposal from pension legislation being considered by lawmakers, and the mobilization resulted in an infusion of $225 million to shore up the pension fund.

When Colorado teachers announced that they planned to strike, some lawmakers introduced legislation to make teacher strikes an illegal offensive that could result in jail time for those participating in strikes.

That threat didn’t keep thousands of Colorado teachers from walking off the job both Thursday and Friday resulting in school closures in at least 27 districts.

In Tunisia, secondary and college teachers on April 16 began an indefinite strike to stop cuts to public education being proposed by the government.

The teachers’ union, the FGESEC, blamed the government’s cuts on the International Monetary Fund, which has insisted on a number of austerity measures including cuts to education in return for a loan that the government requested.

The union is demanding wage increases for teachers, retirement at age 55 after 30 years of service, more progressive schools, a democratic education structure that benefits all children, teaching of the national culture, and an end to privatization of government resources including schools.

In Arizona, teachers were disappointed when Gov. Ducey refused to meet with them and  lawmakers adjourned and left town rather than meet face-to-face with angry teachers.

But the teachers weren’t deterred. They returned to the Capitol on Friday, and vowed to continue their fight.

“They ran from red,” said an AEA posting on its Facebook page referring to the #RedforEd movement. “But we’ll be back. We’re not giving up.”

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