North Carolina teachers walk out for a march through the state capital.
Our Houston Federation of Teachers president, Zeph Capo, penned an opinion piece for today’s Houston Chronicle that references the teacher walkouts nationwide (with yet another occurring today in North Carolina) and asks how long educators will tolerate inadequate funding and its impacts on our schools in Texas. Here’s piece reprinted in entirety:
The teacher uprisings that spread across the nation this spring all shared a common thread: Educators are fed up with decades of school-funding levels that are wholly inadequate for the needs of their students.
They are frustrated with the poor physical condition of their schools. They are incensed that their voice on issues directly affecting their students is being ignored or disrespected. They are insulted by offers that pair a pay raise with steep health insurance hikes and angry that so many have to take second or third jobs to be able to afford basic living expenses, not to mention pay back their student loans.
Many of our schools are expected to do more with less money. Academic standards and requirements rise but funding drops. The average cost to educate a student set by the state Legislature is far too low, especially for urban districts with high numbers of students with greater needs.
Public education is a fundamental value of our democracy and should be treated as such by those who are responsible for funding education. But public education in largely red states has been given short shrift, treated as much less important than providing tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. This political judgment will become an economic nightmare when today’s students do not graduate college- or career-ready.
Adequately preparing students requires providing classrooms with basic supplies as well as modern and operational technology. Class sizes should be small enough for individualized instruction. Schools must have enough and current textbooks for every student. Schools must be safe and large enough to accommodate all students. Teachers’ salaries must reflect the challenges of the teaching profession and the dedication it requires.
Over the past several years, teachers have tried conventional responses to difficult teaching and learning conditions. They’ve described the problems and recommended solutions. They’ve pleaded with lawmakers who slash education funding to visit their schools to see the problems, but their invitations have been declined.
Teachers are realizing that collective voice speaks louder than a few lone wolves trying to effect change. The sustained, massive rallies in state capitals in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky showed legislators that educators stand as one, and parents and students, and even school boards and superintendents, stand with them. All agreed that closing schools for several days meant that educators weren’t walking out on their students; they were walking out for their students.
There was a reckoning by lawmakers in these red states after so many years of harmful disinvestment of education, though in most cases, educators consider the final packages as down payments for what is needed to close the gaps. West Virginia lawmakers approved a 5 percent pay hike for all public employees, not just teachers. Oklahoma lawmakers imposed the first new taxes in 28 years to fund educator pay raises and some school investment. Arizona legislators passed a budget that included a pay raise and some school funding.
What does this mean for Houston?
Will we have massive marches on Austin?
Texans should hope we can secure strong and appropriate teaching and learning conditions before resorting to that. To that end, educators and our supporters will rally at Discovery Green on May 19 at noon to speak out for public education.
Educators will fight for what kids need, and the public will have their backs because they believe in investing in our public schools and valuing their educators. The public is demanding an end to the failed policies that have drained school budgets and diminished students’ future opportunities.
Capo is president of the Houston Federation of Teachers and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers.