This Week in Education Organizing - April 6, 2018

Teacher Uprisings Continue!

The West Virginia teachers strike was as close to a general strike as we’ve seen in the U.S. in decades. Their historic and inspiring action won a 5% raise and stabilized health-care costs for all public employees across the state. Support for the walkout was widespread. West Virginia school superintendents opted to close schools rather than allow state officials to declare an illegal strike. Parents and students rallied and marched alongside their teachers.  

In Oklahoma—schools were shuttered all this week as teachers demand more funding for their schools and their first salary increase in ten years. Thousands of educators and supporters flooded the state capitol in Oklahoma City. State lawmakers continue to debate a variety of revenue measures to meet the teachers’ demands, but have proven reluctant to take on the big-money corporate interests in the state that have enjoyed billions in preferential tax treatment over the past decade.

Lawmakers are stonewalling at their own risk: A new statewide poll released on Wednesday found that 93% of Oklahomans believe the state legislature has not done enough to increase funding for public education. Support for the teachers’ action stands at 77%, and support for the state legislature is at a whopping 17%.

In Kentucky, schools in eight districts were closed today as teachers protest a new bill that slashes pension benefits for teaching coming in to the system in the future.

In Arizona, talk of a strike looms large. “School districts like mine and the teachers who work in them are forced to do more with less, and then act as if nothing is wrong,” said Amy Ball, a kindergarten teacher. "Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions and if we don’t stand for children, then we don’t stand for much." Teachers across the state wore red on Wednesday, showing their unity in a call for the state to overturn dramatic spending cuts that have decimated the state’s schools. Arizona teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation.

Educators in Oklahoma—as elsewhere—aren’t just taking action for their own salaries or pensions. Oklahoma school spending is down 28% since 2008, when many states made dramatic cuts to schools in the face of the recession. But unlike most other states, Oklahoma didn’t just slash spending to public schools…they also slashed taxes, including taxes for the big oil and gas industry (the folks who don’t have to buy their own pencils or markers). In fact, 20% of the state’s school districts are now on a 4-day school week. And while there are 15,000 new students in the state just since 2014, there are 700 fewer teachers. And opportunities like art, music and foreign language classes have also been cut across the state.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute has an accessible and really useful set of materials that address both the impact of the cuts to public education in the state and provides ideas for where new revenues could come from (remember those oil and gas guys?) to fully fund the state’s public schools.

These inspiring fights will leave a more lasting impression when teacher leaders use them to build their unions into powerful forces for social transformation. It is about more than pensions or health care or salaries, as important as those are. It must also be about universal child-care, free college, taxing the wealthy and building the common good—strengthening our schools, stopping the school-to-prison-pipeline, and so much more. 

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) offers one vehicle for bringing together the common interests of parents, educators and students. We have to challenge the enduring forms of racism, inequality and violence in our society. The brave educators from West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky, with few formal union rights, remind us that refusing to work—non-compliance—is a powerful tactic that can bring us back into the forefront of movements for social justice.

Many thanks to Jackson Potter for his contributions to this piece. Arizona photo credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP.

Books, not Guns

AROS has launched a new initiative to support the youth-led call for gun control. While the President and Attorney General are calling for arming teachers, parents, students and teachers themselves are saying no. An NEA membership poll found that 82% of teachers oppose the idea of carrying firearms in schools.

AROS is asking parents, students and teachers to sign this PLEDGE to demonstrate opposition to the idea of guns in the classroom. In addition, we’re asking folks every state to find ways to support student walkouts planned for April 20th—the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

AROS tables should download one or more of the posters available on our Books, Not Guns website. AROS will reimburse (up to $200) for mass printings of the poster to be used on April 20th (receipts required). There are also social media versions of the poster! Help us spread the word!

Check here to find a planned April 20th action near you. Let’s support our students.

Advancement Project Resources on Police in Schools, Student Walkouts and Legislation

Advancement Project has developed a set of useful materials for our times. These include a student walkout toolkit (including issue talking points and know-your-rights information), a joint brief, “Police in Schools are Not the Answer to School Shootings,” and a new tracking initiative to monitor school police legislation in the wake of the shootings in Parkland, Florida. 

Where’s Betsy? Don’t rely on her schedule to find out

Betsy DeVos probably wears a wig and a trench coat when she leaves the Department of Education these days. Because her office certainly isn’t being transparent with the general public about her whereabouts. This week, her public schedule showed four days of nothing (she attended an Easter Egg Roll on Monday). So we were surprised when it was announced on Wednesday morning that DeVos was in fact hosting an invitation-only meeting of opponents and advocates of the Obama-era school discipline guidance, as she continues to consider whether to keep them in place, or rescind them.

And we were further surprised—as was the Dallas School Board—to hear that on Thursday, DeVos was turning up at two local schools. With little more than 12 hours notice, over 100 protestors met DeVos (who entered through a back door) at Dade Middle School. Board members and others expressed frustration at the Secretary’s lack of openness with the public, lack of knowledge about schools or school issues, and continued proselytizing about the value of school choice. 

AROS now has a special, occasional “DeVos Watch” eblast that is reporting on various things Betsy on a weekly (or less often). If you’d like to receive these short newsletters, click HERE.

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