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No end in sight for nationwide wave of teacher strikes

Striking teachers marching in LA
Striking public school teachers and their supporters, Jan. 21, Los Angeles. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

In the past year, teachers across the country have initiated a sustained protest movement, challenging school districts and elected officials to allocate funds for increased salaries, benefits and resources to meet the needs of students.

The state of play: The string of walkouts, introduced by West Virginia educators who led a 9-day strike in February of last year, shows no signs of slowing or stopping. Already this year, there have been strikes in Los Angeles, Denver, and Oakland that have resulted in school district concessions.

The big picture: This movement is evolving into something deeper than mere calls for school funding, teacher wages, and benefits. Demands for smaller class sizes, fewer annual standardized tests, and opposition to the expansion of private-school voucher programs and charter schools have become a rallying cry.

Highlights of success since the movement started:

  • Oakland teachers just reached a tentative deal Friday over compensation and class size following their 7-day strike. They were on strike over those details, but also over the district’s plan to close several dozen schools serving predominantly black and Latino students.
  • Last month, educators in West Virginia declared victory after state lawmakers rejected a bill that would have opened the state's first charter schools, made it easier to fire teachers without considering seniority during layoffs, and used public dollars to fund private schools.
  • Teachers in Denver last month ended a 3-day walkout — the first strike there in 25 years. Their union and the city’s public school system reached a deal to add $23 million to fund a 7–11% increase in base salaries next year, as well as a 20-step salary hike schedule.
  • Last month, LA teachers representing the country's second largest school district reached a tentative deal to conclude a 6-day strike. They agreed upon a 6% raise, a significant concession from the school district on standardized tests, and promises of smaller class sizes, additional nurses and counselors.
  • Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation last May to increase teachers' wages by 20% over the next three years. However, the deal fell short of initial demands.
  • Oklahoma’s largest teachers union ended a walkout last April that closed public schools statewide for 9 days after negotiating $479 million in funding for the next school year. They were seeking $600 million.

Other states that have gone on strike over the past year include Illinois and Colorado. In Kentucky, teachers lauded a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court last December after it struck down a controversial pension reform law, which has prompted thousands of teachers to protest and close schools.

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