What started as a statewide protest in West Virginia over low salaries and decimated benefits has turned into a movement: Since February, teachers have walked out of classrooms not only in West Virginia, but also in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona. Their demands have been largely similar. They are born out of a dissatisfaction with traditionally conservative policies of offering tax cuts to large companies, which, in turn, results in lower salaries for public employees like teachers.
Now, Colorado has joined the movement. While geographically, it’s a short step from states like Arizona and Oklahoma, politically, it’s a leap: Colorado is the first blue state in which teachers have walked out. The state is led by a Democratic governor, and while its state senate falls under Republican control, Democrats have the house, and its labor laws favor unions.
But still, the Colorado teachers’ union president tells The New York Times that the state has leeched $6.6 billion from its education system since 2009; many teachers work multiple jobs, and some rural districts have reduced their school week down to four days in response to the budget cuts, while raising fees on students. The state’s education system is currently short 3,000 staffers. While Colorado ranks 31st in the nation in terms of actual teacher salaries (they earn, on average, just under $52,000, compared to West Virginia teachers, who earn just over $45,000), the schools themselves are abysmally underfunded, falling $2,700 below the national average in per-pupil funding.
Schools in more than 20 districts across the state are expected to close today as teachers call for more tax dollars to fund education, and for a freeze on corporate tax breaks until the per-pupil funding levels up with the national average. This is all taking place despite the fact that two Republican lawmakers in the state have introduced a bill that would punish striking teachers with fines or jail time.