Not Just L.A.: Where Teachers Might Strike in 2019

Unrest over education funding and policy is brewing in several cities and states across the country.
by | January 17, 2019 AT 6:32 PM
Protesters holding umbrellas fill the street.
This is the first time teachers are striking in Los Angeles since 1989. (AP/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

SPEED READ:

  • Teachers in Oakland, Calif., are preparing to walk out on Friday. 
  • A potential strike vote is scheduled for teachers in Denver on Saturday.
  • Teachers in Virginia will rally at the state Capitol for more funding.
  • In Indiana, teachers are lobbying the legislature for more money -- and may take action if they don't get it.
  • Some Chicago charter school teachers will strike on Feb. 5 if contract negotiations aren't resolved by then.
 

The ongoing teacher strike in Los Angeles won’t be this year’s only uprising of educators pushing for higher pay, better working conditions and changes to education policy.

With more than 30,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union off the job since their strike began Monday, teachers from half a dozen public schools in Oakland, Calif., are preparing for their own walkout on Friday. Friday is also the deadline for teachers in Denver to reach a contract agreement with their district, and the union has scheduled a strike vote for Saturday if that doesn’t happen.

Meanwhile, teachers in Chicago, Indiana and Virginia are all weighing various actions -- formal strikes, walkouts or other demonstrations -- over what they say is the underfunding of their schools. This follows a year in which teachers across the country -- sometimes across an entire state -- went on strike or protested in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

"Despair is no longer a strategy,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, who was in L.A. earlier this week supporting the strike. “They want to have the conditions they need to teach kids."

Weingarten argues that the common thread in all the recent teacher uprisings is a sense of scarcity -- educators increasingly having to do more with less as a result of budget cuts or lack of investment. In response to the Great Recession, states sharply cut funding for K-12 education.

“What we've seen across the country is teachers sick and tired of being sick and tired,” says Jim Livingston, president of the Virginia Education Association union.

His group is planning a rally for their annual lobby day at the state Capitol on Jan. 28, hoping to pressure Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature to bring back pre-recession levels of education funding. In the short-term, they’re supporting Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to hike education spending by $268 million and give teachers a 5 percent raise.

Sarah Pedersen, a U.S. history teacher in Richmond and an organizer with the activist group Virginia Educators United, says her group also supports Northam’s plan. Virginia Educators United plans to march on the Capitol with “a few thousand” people on the same day as the union’s rally.

Teachers expect to take leave from their schools to attend both events.

"The legislature needs to vote yes on the governor's K-12 education budget and find the rest to fully fund public education in the state,” Pedersen says. (She even has a snappy slogan: “Vote yes and find the rest.")

The Virginia teachers, however, aren’t contemplating striking or walking out -- at least for now. They’re focused on lobbying lawmakers and supporting like-minded candidates in state legislative elections this fall.

In Indiana, pressure from teachers has "made teacher pay one of the defining issues of the current legislative session.” The Indiana State Teachers Association is optimistic about its current negotiations with lawmakers, but it's not ruling out taking some kind of action.

Teresa Meredith, the union’s president, told the Indianapolis Star that the legislature’s current proposal -- a 2 percent boost of the state's K-12 education budget in 2020 and 2021 -- doesn’t cut it.

"We are way behind where we are supposed to be already," she said. "It's been years since there has been any sort of meaningful investment for teacher pay.”

In Chicago, teachers are already planning for work stoppages this year. Four Chicago International Charter Schools will see strikes on Feb. 5 unless contract negotiations are resolved.

Graham Vyse | Staff Writer