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Teachers leave in Oklahoma and Kentucky: “It really is a forest fire”

Mr. Karvelis said the younger teachers had been motivated by their anger at the election of President Trump, the appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education and even the participation of their own students in anti-gun protests after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. 19659002] "Teachers have long had a martyr mentality," Karvelis said. "This is new".

The wave of protests is increasing when the Supreme Court prepares a decision on Janus v. Afscme, an important case in which the court is expected to make it difficult for public sector unions to require workers to pay membership fees. But recent strikes suggest that labor activism may not need highly funded unions to be effective. Unlike strengths for work, such as New York or California, teacher unions in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona are prohibited by law for forcing workers to pay their debts. However, that has not stopped protesters from making harsh demands on lawmakers.

West Virginia's master strikers declared victory last month after gaining a 5 percent increase, but Oklahoma educators expect more.

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Teachers and their supporters protested against a pension reform bill at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort on Monday.

Credit
Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

Last week, the Oklahoma City Legislature voted to provide teachers an average increase of $ 6,000 per year, or approximately an increase of 16 percent, based on experience. Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, signed the bill.

The teachers said that was not enough. They have requested an increase of $ 10,000, as well as additional funds for schools and increases for support staff such as bus drivers and janitors.

About 200 of the state's 500 school districts closed on Monday when teachers left, challenging calls from some parents and administrators to be grateful for what they already received from the state.

To pay for the increase, politicians from both parties agreed to raise taxes on oil and gas production, the state's most prized industry, and institute new taxes on tobacco and motor fuel. It was the first new income law that became law in Oklahoma in 28 years, avoiding decades of reduced orthodoxy.

In Kentucky, teachers earn an average salary of $ 52,000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, compared to $ 45,000 in Oklahoma. But teachers there, thousands of whom are protesting on Capitol Hill during their spring break, are protesting against a pension reform bill that abruptly passed the House of Representatives and the Senate last week. If Governor Matt Bevin enacts it, it will phase out defined benefit pensions for teachers and replace them with hybrid retirement plans that combine the characteristics of a traditional pension with the characteristics of 401 (k) accounts used in the private sector. Teachers in the state are not eligible for Social Security benefits.

Andrew Beaver, 32, a middle school math teacher in Louisville, said he was open to changes in teacher retirement programs, such as asking teachers to work for a greater age before extracting benefits ; Currently, some Kentucky teachers are eligible to retire around age 50. But he said he and his colleagues, many of whom have called in sick people to protest the bill, were angry about not having a seat at the bargaining table with Mr. Bevin, a Republican, and the Republican majority in the Legislature.

"What I'm seeing in Louisville is that teachers are much more politically engaged than in 2015 or 2016," he said. "It really is a fire."

In Arizona, where the average teacher salary is $ 47,000, teachers are agitating for a more generous salary and more money for schools after seeing how the state cuts funds to public education for years.

We will continue to intensify our actions, "said Karvelis." If that finally ends in an attack? That is certainly a possibility. We just want to win. "

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Oklahoma educators endure more than the $ 6,000 increase per year signed by the Legislature last week.

Credit
Alex Flynn for The New York Times

Mr. Karvelis, 23, said teachers would not leave class unless they could gain the support of parents and community members throughout the state, including in rural areas. But he said the movement would be influential regardless of whether it turns off the schools.

"We are going to have many teachers at the polls that I do not think would normally go in an intermediate year," he said. He said. "If I were a legislator at the moment, I would be sweating with sincerity"

With the Republican legislators and the governors being the most affected by the fury of the demonstrators, the Democratic Party tries to capitalize on the moment. The Democratic National Committee plans to register voters at teacher meetings and hopes to take advantage of the populism of the movement.

The teachers' strikes are "a real rejection of the Republican agenda that does not favor the working class," said Sabrina Singh, the committee's deputy communications director. "Republicans are not on the side of teachers, Democrats are."

That kind of rhetoric is a radical change from the Obama years, when many Democrats angered teachers by talking less about central school funding issues than by expanding the number of charter schools or using test scores. to evaluate teachers and eliminate the ineffective school reformer

"School reformers exceeded the mark, and now we are in a pendulum shift in which teachers are increasingly seen as good," said Frederick Hess, director of studies of educational policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Republicans, too, he said, should consider presenting themselves as friendly candidates with teachers, perhaps linking teacher salary increases to efforts to expand school choice through vouchers from private schools or charter schools.

Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Association of Education, the largest teacher union in the country, called the movement an "educational spring".

"This is the civic education lesson of our time," he said. "Politicians on both sides of the aisle are taking their sleep out of their faces"

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