After stoically accepting increasing demands without commensurate salary increases for years, teachers are fed up (“Arizona Teachers Are Out On the Largest Strike in State History. Here’s Why,” In These Times, Apr. 26). They’re showing their disaffection by engaging in more work stoppages so far this year than in any full year since 1993, according to the Bureau of Labor.
The combination of accountability demands, coupled with lack of adjustment in their salaries as adjusted for inflation, has resulted in revolts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona. Critics of such demonstrations say that if teachers don’t like what has happened since 1992, they can always quit. That’s the same argument used when workers attempt to organize in any field: No one is forcing them to stay.
But there’s one difference. It’s one thing to recruit workers in factories and quite another to recruit college graduates to become teachers. If the situation doesn’t improve, who will teach the young? We’re already seeing this happen. According to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the number of people entering teacher preparation programs dropped by more than 55 percent between 2008 and 2012. Nationally, the drop was 30 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to federal data. If teaching is such a plum, as some charge, why aren’t college grads flocking to the field?
Critics of strikes by teachers counter that college grads avoid making teaching a career because of the lack of opportunity to advance professionally. But nothing has changed in this regard. What has changed, however, is the growing gap between salaries and the cost of living. Teachers are often forced to moonlight in order to make ends meet. Dedication doesn’t pay the bills.
What about the argument that there is no money to pay teachers more? For example, Arizona hands out approximately $14 billion in tax exemptions, while taking in $9.8 billion in its general fund. The latter is how the state pays for its schools. The difference accounts in large part for the state’s present situation regarding schools. Teachers there want per-student spending to reach the national average. I don’t think that demand is unreasonable.
(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)