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America’s public-school teachers are fired up about pay

Conservative states face a reckoning after years of stagnant wages


Daily chartAmerica’s public-school teachers are fired up about pay

Conservative states face a reckoning after years of stagnant wages

NO SOONER had lawmakers in one state resolved a long-simmering battle over teacher pay than another one began anew. On March 6th the West Virginia state legislature ended a nine-day teachers’ strike, which affected some 277,000 students in 680 public schools, by agreeing to increase pay for teachers and other state employees by 5%. But before the ink had dried on that deal, educators in Oklahoma, another Republican-controlled state that has balanced its budget by slashing public spending in recent years, were clamouring to stage their own walk-out.

On the surface, it would seem that teachers in both states are due for a pay rise. According to America’s Department of Education, West Virginia’s public-school teachers earn about $45,700 a year, ranking it 48th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Teachers in Oklahoma fare even worse at just $45,200 (49th). But such comparisons fail to account for cost-of-living differences between states. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, public-school employees in West Virginia earn 97 cents for every dollar earned by the average private-sector worker, well above the national average. In Oklahoma, the figure is just 73 cents (see chart). In Kansas, where the state supreme court recently ruled that public spending on education was unconstitutionally low, it is 71 cents.

Union leaders say the showdown in West Virginia has emboldened teachers in other states: the Facebook group “Oklahoma Teacher Walkout—The Time Is Now!” has amassed over 45,000 members during the past week. However, the West Virginia deal came at a cost to other public services. As teachers in the state celebrated their $2,000 pay rise, the largest in state history, lawmakers announced that they intend to pay for the increase in spending not by raising taxes, but by cutting $20m from current spending on general services and Medicaid, a health-care programme for the poor.

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