If you work in public education, there’s no doubt you’ve heard about teachers walking out of schools across the country in dispute of low wages.
Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Kentucky school districts all have experienced mass walkouts since the beginning of the month as teachers continue to demand liveable, fair salaries. Arizona teachers staged a “walk-in,” where they protested low pay by wearing red shirts and carrying signs in hopes of getting 20 percent raises across the board.
The interesting thing about the recent teacher walkouts is that, at least to an extent, they’re working. West Virginia’s strike ended after nine days when Governor Jim Justice signed a bill approving a 5 percent pay raise for state employees. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey gave into demands two days into the “walk-in,” proposing to boost teacher salaries 20 percent by 2020. Finally, Oklahoma lawmakers approved a $50 million bill allowing educators a $6,100 annual pay raise, although teachers were hoping for an additional $150 million in school funding and increased raises for themselves and support staff.
If any state needed an extra $150 million, it’d certainly be Oklahoma. The state ranks dead last nationally in median teacher salaries for both elementary ($38,000 per year) and secondary ($40,000) schools. In contrast, Texas is ranked 25th in the country, with median teacher salaries at about $56,000 per year.
It’s no surprise teachers from Oklahoma are flocking to Texas, which not only offers better pay, but has limits on class sizes and typically better infrastructure. Depending on the school district and which subject they teach, educators can make up to $20,000 more in Texas than they can in Oklahoma, and Texas isn’t even known for having high teacher pay.
In fact, teacher salaries in Texas are, on average, $6,500 less than the national average, according to a 2016 report. Back in 2008, the state covered 48.5 percent of the cost of public education. By 2019, that number will decrease to 38 percent as a result of prolonged negligence of the critical need for public school funding. And remember—salaries and benefits are about 80 percent of most districts’ budgets, so a reduction in funding of that magnitude is certain to impact compensation.
Even with the dearth of public school funding and resources in Texas, teachers in the state should dispose of any plans to begin a walkout of their own or, as employees engaging in an organized work stoppage against the state, risk losing their:
- Civil service rights
- Reemployment rights
- Teacher Retirement System benefits
- Teaching certificates
A spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association told the Texas Tribune they haven’t received any indication teachers in the state are preparing for a strike, but, even if they were, it’d be in vain because the Legislature isn’t in session so nothing could change right now as a result of their efforts.
The best way for Texas teachers to speak up for Texas public schools is to show up at the polls, something they began doing in larger numbers at the March 6 primaries. There are other ways to make an impact—contacting legislators, writing letters to local newspapers, and testifying at the Capitol, to name a few—but the biggest difference teachers can make to ensure public school funding is made a priority is to research the candidates, register to vote (and encourage other public school supporters to register to vote), and then cast their ballots.