Earlier this year, organized action was taken by teachers unions in a few GOP led states to force legislators to fix school funding issues that included what had become the gross underpayment of public school teachers:
As of late May, walkouts in Colorado and North Carolina have followed statewide actions in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky. Some of these protests won significant, even if modest, gains in teachers’ salaries and funding for schools. Others won political promises that have yet to be redeemed. But all have contributed to the groundswell of teacher walkouts, and it’s unclear how it will carry on into next year.
What Is Driving the Teacher Rebellion?
The wave of struggles sweeping through the United States are more than “red state” revolts. They are rebellions against the austerity and privatization that has been driving federal and state economic policy for decades.
“Not surprisingly,” noted an Economic Policy Institute report, “striking teachers live in states with some of the largest pay gaps. In Arizona, teachers earn just 63 cents on the dollar compared with other college graduates. That gap is 79 cents in Kentucky, 67 cents in Oklahoma, and 75 cents in West Virginia. These gaps amount to vast differences in earning over a career.”
Arizona’s public school teachers walked out for a week to protest the fact that they were earning far less than other people with college degrees and far less than teachers in other states. They also were protesting against the dismal school funding that was going to their students, school funding that had been cut due to GOP tax cuts:
Research from the CBPP has shown that states failed to reinvest in education after the recession: Arizona saw the single largest drop in combined state and local funding for schools between 2008 and 2015. Simultaneously, Arizona continued to cut taxes. Arizona passed a 10 percent personal income tax cut in 2006 and slashed the corporate rate by 30 percent in 2011.
The teacher strike in Arizona put enough pressure on the GOP leadership of the state to institute over $600 million in new funding for schools and a 20% raise in teacher salaries:
The revenue sources for Ducey’s proposal had to be tweaked slightly before Senate and House leaders reached a deal, but the broad strokes remained the same: $644 million in funding meant for superintendents to spend on teacher salaries would go to school districts by the 2020 school year, ideally adding up to a 20 percent pay bump.
The Arizona GOP apparently doesn’t want a repeat of the 2018 effort by Arizona’s school teachers to secure decent funding for education in the state. So, the Arizona GOP is taking action, by submitting a bill to intimidate teachers from organizing again:
A state lawmaker wants to send teachers a message: If they bring politics into the classroom, they’re risking their jobs.
Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley,has introduced the first education bill of the 2019 legislative session. House Bill 2002 would direct the State Board of Education to devise a code of ethics for educators that would include provisions forbidding the spread of political and religious messages in public district and charter schools.
The ethics code would explicitly ban teachers from endorsing political candidates, legislation or judicial action in the classroom.
When teachers strike, they need to organize, and they need to come up with demands for the politicians they are organizing against. Basically, they need to engage in politics. This GOP bill is not so subtly trying to make teachers afraid of losing their jobs if they do engage in politics by organizing as they did earlier this year.
This appears to be the new GOP strategy for dealing with potential teacher strikes due to GOP budget cuts: intimidate the teachers by making them fear that they will be fired if they organize again.
The Kentucky GOP is using the same tactic.
Teachers in Kentucky went on strike in the Spring of 2018 because Matt Bevin, the Republican Governor, tried to pass a plan to cut teacher pensions and veto education funding that was passed by the State’s legislature. The pension “reform” was passed, but the legislature listened to the striking teachers and overrode the Governor’s veto of education spending:
As Kentucky teachers declare victory after the Republican-dominated legislature overrode vetoes from the state’s GOP governor of a spending plan that included new money for education, the question going forward is whether teachers will be able to sustain their momentum into the fall elections when Republicans will try to defend their super majority.
Thanks to public support for the teachers and their strike, enough Republicans in the state legislature decided at the time to go against the anti-teacher and public school crusade of Kentucky’s carpetbagging Republican Governor, who is not from Kentucky, who was instead born in Colorado, raised in New Hampshire, went to college in Virginia, worked as a financial consultant in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and then took over his family business in Connecticut.
This prompted Matt Bevin at the time, who seems to genuinely be a horrible person, to level a disgusting accusation at the striking teachers:
“I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them,” Bevin said, according to a video posted to Twitter by a reporter for WDRB-TV. “I guarantee you somewhere today a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them. I’m offended by the idea that people so cavalierly and so flippantly disregarded what’s truly best for children.”
Next, the Kentucky Supreme Court gave Kentucky’s teachers and students another victory, when it struck down Matt Bevin’s pension cuts in a unanimous decision:
In a rebuke of the General Assembly and a blow to Gov. Matt Bevin’s approach to reforming Kentucky’s pension system, the state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down the pension reform law passed by the legislature earlier this year.
The high court ruled that the speedy process used by Republican majorities to turn Senate Bill 151 from a sewer bill into a 291-page pension reform bill and zip it into law violated a provision within the state constitution intended to ensure that lawmakers have the “fair opportunity” to consider a bill before voting on it.
“We declare the enactment of SB 151 was contradictory to the Kentucky Constitution and is hereby void and of no effect,” Justice Daniel J. Venters wrote for the court.
However, this battle between Matt Bevin and Kentucky’s teachers and public schools looks far from over, and the Republican Party of Kentucky is helping the Governor out by attempting to intimidate teachers into submission.
It was recently reported that the Republican Party of Kentucky has been asking to review the e-mails of public school teachers:
The Republican Party of Kentucky has sent a wave of open records requests for the work emails of several teachers, including some who ran for office in November’s election — a move it said was a way to see if there was widespread misuse of government resources.
But some educators see it as an intimidation tactic.
While the GOP has declined to say how many requests it has submitted or for whom, at least some of the requests are for Democratic candidates who lost their elections.
“I think the reason they’re doing it is they want to make everybody afraid to run again, afraid to run against the establishment next time,” said Dustin Allen, a teacher in Laurel County who made an unsuccessful bid for the Kentucky House’s 87th District.
Allen posted a video on his personal Facebook page after he learned about the open records request, saying the GOP was “trying to find dirt on me” and saying he’d welcome party members to come visit and talk with him.
“It’s made me more angry than anything else that they would try something like that,” Allen said Thursday. He originally planned to stay away from politics in the near future but now plans to knock on doors in the next election, he said.