Betsy DeVos says Oklahoma teachers should return to their classrooms

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says Oklahoma teachers should return to their classrooms.

According to a Washington Post report Monday, the nation’s top public school official is taking aim at teachers in Oklahoma, who are protesting paltry public education funding.

Educators in several conservative states, including Oklahoma, are clamoring for better pay and better school funding, walking out of classrooms. But DeVos says the protests should not impact classrooms.

From The Washington Post:

“I think about the kids,” DeVos said Thursday, according to The Dallas Morning News. She had been touring a middle school and meeting with leaders of an anti-violence initiative in Dallas. “I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.”

Her spokeswoman did not return a request for additional comment.

Tens of thousands of Oklahoma teachers converged on the state Capitol last week, demanding more money for the state’s schools, which have endured some of the steepest spending cuts in the nation. While the protest began over teacher pay, educators have shifted their emphasis, pressing lawmakers to invest more in classrooms and saying their walkout is in the name of students who are not getting the resources they need to learn.

Children in many districts — including the state’s two largest — have been out of the classroom for five days, and many schools are expected to remain closed this week as teachers continue their fight. Churches, community organizations and even the Oklahoma City Zoo have stepped up to provide childcare and to make sure children who rely on schools for meals get food.

The revolt in Oklahoma is part of a wave of teacher protests sweeping the country inspired by a successful teacher walkout in West Virginia. There, teachers pressed the state into giving them a 5 percent raise after shutting down schools for nine days. This month, teachers in Kentucky briefly shut some school districts as they protested pension reforms. Teachers in Arizona, where school funding has dropped steeply, are threatening to walk out unless the state restores funding and gives them a raise.

DeVos also weighed in during the West Virginia teacher walkout as it stretched on in February.

“It¹s now day 4 of #WVTeacherStrike. Whether you believe good teachers deserve better pay – I do – and/or states should be fiscally responsible – I do – we should all agree kids should not suffer for adult squabbles,” she wrote on Twitter. “But kids are directly harmed when they are barred from going to school to learn. So I hope both sides in WV come to the table to negotiate a swift resolution and get students back in their schools.”

Adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma spends nearly 30 percent less on schools than it did a decade ago. School buildings are crumbling in many parts of the state, textbooks are outdated and tattered, and about 20 percent of districts have moved to four-day school weeks. Oklahoma teacher salaries ranked 49th in the nation, according to a 2016 report by the National Education Association, a leading teachers union.

North Carolina education leaders say the state’s teachers have no walkout plans, although the N.C. Association of Educators is planning a May 16 advocacy day to time with lawmakers’ return to session.

The News & Observer detailed North Carolina educators’ complaints in an opinion piece this weekend.

From The News & Observer:

North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers don’t mind pushing teachers around.

They’ve refused to fully restore education cuts imposed during the Great Recession — almost a decade ago — stripped teachers of extra pay for advanced degrees, eliminated tenure protection for teachers hired since July 2013 and dismantled a pay scale that provided annual raises. Republican legislators also tried to bar the teachers’ lobbying group, the N.C. Association of Educators, from deducting dues from paychecks, but a court found that law unconstitutional because it unfairly targeted one group.

North Carolina’s tough treatment of educators and education has been a template for other Republican-controlled states: Cut taxes and sharply limit spending on a top expense — public schools. But now teachers in other Republican-controlled states are taking direct action against that model. In West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and possibly soon in Arizona, teachers have walked out to demand more pay and better overall funding for public schools.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, called the walkouts “red states rising against the cuts and dismantling of public schools.

North Carolina teachers, lacking union protection and still hopeful that the legislature may come through with more money, are holding off on direct action, but they are cheering on the red-state rebellions.

“I think it’s wonderful, powerful and amazing,” said Rahnesia Best, a fourth-grade teacher at Olive Chapel Elementary in Apex.

North Carolina teachers are not walking out — not yet anyway — but they are preparing to march in when the General Assembly reconvenes on May 16. The NCAE plans a major “Day of Advocacy” rally at the Legislative Building to demand better teacher pay for themselves and increased school funding overall.

Ironically, North Carolina teachers won’t walk out over low pay because they need the money.

Best, a teacher for 11 years, also works two other jobs. “Many teachers are living paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “You’re stuck between activism and ‘What am I going to do if I lose my job?’ ”

state-by-state analysis of teacher pay adjusted for inflation published by the online news site VOX found that North Carolina teacher pay has dropped by 5 percent since 2009. Since 2009, North Carolina teachers’ average salary rose from $46,850 to $49,837. But when adjusted for inflation, the average salary has dropped from $52,472 to $49,837. Meanwhile, hikes in insurance premiums have further eroded their pay.

For school funding, it’s the same story. Before the recession, North Carolina ranked as high as 20th in per-pupil spending, according to a ranking compiled by Education Week. Now it ranks 40th.

Hannah Bethea, a Franklin County second-grade teacher who has been teaching for 13 years, said, “I always wonder what it would look like if they got rid of public education. We can’t do that because of the state Constitution, but we’re kind of seeing that.”

Bethea said she appreciates the modest pay increases of recent years, but it’s not all about salaries. Teachers take reduced pay, she said, in return for other benefits – such as tenure and health insurance after they retire – which are being taken away.

“It’s not that teachers go into it for the money. They go in for certain things that are now pulled back from them,” she said. “If you are a new teacher, why would you want to be one?”

State Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican who leads the House committee that oversees education spending, acknowledges that teachers should be paid more, but he wants more funding tied to measures that will improve results in the classroom.

“I’m very much aware that lots of jobs which we used to consider menial pay more than we pay teachers. That’s just wrong,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to raise the floor. But by the same token we have to find better ways to have our teachers be better teachers.”

Without more respect from lawmakers, North Carolina may soon be desperate to have any teachers. Period.

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Betsy DeVos says Oklahoma teachers should return to their classrooms