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Teacher protests are spreading around the nation. Here’s what’s fueling the movement

Thousands of teachers protested Monday in Oklahoma and Kentucky, demanding higher wages and more resources for students. So far this year, teachers in four states - each with a Republican governor and legislature -- have walked out of classrooms to press for more school spending. John Yang talks with Liana Loewus of Education Week about what’s happening around the country.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thousands of teachers protested today in Oklahoma and Kentucky, demanding higher wages and more resources for students.

    It's the latest in a series of teacher walkouts that seem to be growing across red states.

    John Yang has more on the latest.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Today, thousands of teachers in Oklahoma walked off their jobs and marched on the statehouse. They're demanding an even bigger raise than what legislators passed last week.

    At the Kentucky State Capitol the scene, and the issue, was much the same.

    Melissa Sheets teaches elementary school.

  • MELISSA SHEETS:

    I pray and I hope that our legislators listen and they fully fund our schools. Kentucky is ranked 47 in per pupil funding. And in order for our students to be successful, they need top dollar.

  • JOHN YANG:

    So far this year, teachers in four states, each with a Republican governor and legislature, have walked out of classrooms to press for more school funding. It began in West Virginia, where a nine-day teachers strike led to 5 percent raises.

    Arizona could be next. Teachers there rallied last week at the state capitol. They're considering a strike as they seek a 20 percent raise.

    To put all this into context, we're joined by Liana Loewus from our partner Education Week, where she is assistant managing editor.

    Liana, welcome.

  • LIANA LOEWUS,:

    Thanks for having me.

  • JOHN YANG:

    In Oklahoma, they got a raise from the legislature, but they are still protesting. What does that tell us?

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    The teachers got a $6,100 raise. The legislature passed it last week. But they're not happy with it. There's a lot less than they were asking for.

    They were asking for $10,000 over three years, plus $200 million more in education funding. They didn't get what they asked. For so they said, we're walking out anyways.

  • JOHN YANG:

    What's the likelihood that they are going to get that?

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    It's really hard to pass a tax hike in Oklahoma. You need a three-quarters majority in the legislature. That hasn't happened since 1990. And it happened last week. So, I think it's pretty slim that it will happen again.

  • JOHN YANG:

    So, we have got all these other states.

    You have got — in West Virginia, they got a pay raise. In Arizona, the issue is money. In Kentucky, it's pensions.

    Some have described this — some teachers are describing this as a wildfire. Why are all these happening now?

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    Yes, West Virginia, if it's a wildfire, they were definitely the spark. Things started there.

    A lot of it happened on social media. The union's really been playing a supporting role in most of these states, so teachers have been mobilizing on social media. Organizing seems to have changed because of Facebook really.

    So, we have seen thousands and thousands of teachers gather on social media. And teachers in West Virginia have been really sort of bolstering the efforts in Oklahoma as well. So that's a lot of it.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Has there been anything like this ever before?

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    There was actually a statewide strike in West Virginia in like 2007 and one in 1990.

    They are quite rare, though. You know, we see smaller strikes, local strikes every year, just a few. Strikes were just so much more common in the 1960s.

  • JOHN YANG:

    And also the clustering of them like this.

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    Yes, that is unusual, to see teachers feeding off each other in other states.

    And, again, I think that's — a lot of that is because this is happening online. They're bolstering each others' efforts online.

  • JOHN YANG:

    You talk about the sort of rank and file organizing this and the union leaders following. For instance, in Oklahoma today, the union leaders actually wanted to do this later in the month.

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    The union had said they were going to do this on April 23, and there was outrage on social media. The rank-and-file teachers said, no way. We want to do this April 2. We don't — we want to do it — we know that's closer to testing, but we don't care. We want this to be effective.

    And they changed their tack.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Teachers want more funding for schools, not only pay, but other things. A lot of the funding was cut after the recession in 2008.

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    Part of this is that the funding hasn't really rebounded since the recession.

    So, teachers in Oklahoma will tell you, we haven't gotten a raise in 10 years. So, for them, this is really important.

  • JOHN YANG:

    And is it significant that all these are states that have Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures?

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    Sure.

    But, as we know — and they are states where education funding has been cut. But, as we know, with mobilizing happening on social media and in new places, I think this could potentially happen anywhere.

  • JOHN YANG:

    Liana Loewus from Education Week, thanks so much.

  • LIANA LOEWUS:

    Thanks for having me.

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