3 reasons why teachers are striking right now

Teachers from Arizona and Colorado are joining teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky on the picket line.

These teacher strikes will likely intensify the debate among elected officials over where education fits in state budget priorities. They may also prompt Americans to consider whether they are willing to pay more tax dollars to educate the country’s youth.

As a scholar who studies protest and politics in the U.S., I’m often asked why teachers are striking now.

These are the three main reasons:

1. Money matters

First, teachers are tired of trying to educate students without enough money or adequate resources. This shared grievance goes well beyond low teacher pay.

Teachers are rebelling against aging facilities, outdated teaching materials and four-day weeks – all of which are a result of reduced amounts of state and federal money flowing into public schools. In particular, funding greatly varies by school district and is often thinly spread in many states.

Take Texas, for example. School districts on the state’s east coast, especially around Houston, spend 33 percent less per student, per year, than the country’s national average of US$11,841. Compare this to school districts on Texas’s western border, which spend 33 percent more per student, per year, than the national average.

In places like West Virginia and Oklahoma, where teachers are pushing back against a poorly funded education system, most of the school districts fall anywhere from 10 to 33 percent below the national average.

Experts agree that public education has fallen on hard times in the last decade. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that most schools in the U.S. took a hit after the Great Recession in 2008, and that, in 2015, 29 states in the U.S. were still spending less per student than they did in 2008.

Financial resources are particularly stretched in states that champion charter schools, which often are entitled to a piece of a state’s school dollars. According to the Education Commission of the States, 44 states and the District of Columbia permit charter schools. Of those, 25 states do not have caps on the number of charter schools that can exist. This means that the number of charter schools can increase dramatically over a relatively short period of time.

Florida, for example, added almost 100 charter schools between 2012 and 2017 – increasing the total number of charter schools in the state from 578 to 654. Education dollars in the state of Florida are attached to students rather than schools, and charter schools attract students away from the public school system. This means most public schools saw a decline in dollars received over this same period of time.

This, in turn, meant Florida schools found it more difficult to cover the costs associated with hiring teachers and support staff, as well as paying for educational materials and building upkeep. In short, less money goes to public schools in states where charter schools proliferate. The strikes are the teachers’ way of saying they have had enough.

2. Everyone protests

Some reporters have been quick to attribute teacher protests to #TheResistance – a movement against President Donald Trump.

This assumption ignores the fact that collective action in the U.S. has been on the rise over the last few decades. Americans have grown more accustomed to organizing and taking their claims directly to politicians, and when necessary, to the streets. Between 1960 and 1985, for example, the average size of protests in the U.S. increased dramatically. Making one’s voice heard is simply a part of everyday life in the digital age.