Thousands of Teachers Stage Walkouts and Rallies
Upsurge of Protest Meets Assault on Public Education

April 30, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


Last week thousands of teachers went on strike and held protest rallies in Arizona and Colorado. In Phoenix, about 50,000 people, many wearing red t-shirts with the slogan “#RedForEd,” marched to the state capitol—78 percent of Arizona’s 57,000 educators voted to walk out, and almost all schools in the state closed. In Colorado about half of the state’s schools closed for the week and 10,000 people marched in Denver. These protests followed teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.

These educators have shown courage and principle in the face of threats and intimidation. Strikes by public employees are illegal in many states, and the West Virginia attorney general warned teachers they could be arrested—their strike continued for almost two more weeks. When teachers who occupied the state capitol in Oklahoma City were threatened with arrest, they began clapping rhythmically and chanting “we’re not leaving.”

Politicians responsible for slashing funds for public education have made hypocritical appeals for teachers to think of the children and youth, and end their walkouts. In fact, the striking teachers have expressed repeatedly that they are fighting not just for higher pay but against a wholesale assault on education that is damaging children. A first-year teacher in West Virginia expressed this with a homemade sign echoing an old country song: “Students—because you’re mine, I walk the line.”

Mounting Crisis Reaches a Breaking Point

Teachers in all the walkouts or strikes have made similar demands and described similar conditions. They are fighting for a decent wage for themselves and others employed by school districts, such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and janitors. Teachers in public education are underpaid across the country. West Virginia and Oklahoma are right at the bottom of average teacher’s salaries nationwide, with a first-year teacher making about $31,000 per year. Out of that come hundreds or even thousands of dollars many teachers must spend for items not supplied by their school districts, like light bulbs, trash bags, cleaning supplies for rooms, and many others.

Striking teachers told how they have improvised for years to deal with overcrowded classrooms; students sharing books; dilapidated, crumbling buildings; out-of-date textbooks. A Tempe teacher told a reporter, “I think education is in trouble in Arizona. Yeah, we’d like to make more money but (the schools) are not being funded and they (government officials) are giving away money to charter schools and private schools. We’re down here trying to be heard.”

Fascists Take Attacks on Education to New Level

Public education in this country has always been marked by huge inequalities. Especially in inner cities many schools resemble juvenile detention centers, despite the best intentions of many teachers. “Death at an early age,” as author Jonathan Kozol described the mutilation of children’s minds and spirits in inner city schools, has been the fate of countless children and youth pushed through this meat grinder.

For years, funding for public education has been cut across the board, and across the country, by both Democrats and Republicans. These cuts accelerated significantly during and after the recession beginning in 2007.

In 2013, Chicago under Democratic mayor Rahm Emmanuel shut down 50 “underperforming”—and overwhelmingly Black—schools. In the same year in Texas, the state government long dominated by Christian fascists cut $5.3 billion—or about $500 per student—from the state education budget. The result: schools across the state were forced to increase class size, hire fewer teachers, and eliminate “non-core” programs such as band, art, and computer science. Bilingual programs were cut by as much as 40 percent.

Texas is not an isolated or extreme example. A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that public investment in K-12 schools has “declined dramatically” across the country. Poor districts—most often meaning inner city schools with Black and Brown students, and rural districts—have been hit hardest.

Systematic efforts to undermine and even abolish public education have been a key focus of Christian fascist efforts for years. Schools generally are funded by property taxes, and drastic cuts in property taxes have been pushed aggressively by Christian fascists. Then, after gutting funding for public education, these fascists point to the poor condition of public schools as evidence of the need for further cutbacks and “alternatives,” which they frame as “parental choice.” As funding for schools has diminished, financial support for charter schools, vouchers and home schooling has increased.

This horrible situation has gone to unprecedented ferocity under the Trump/Pence fascist regime. Trump’s budget this year cut $3.6 billion from education funding. In addition, billions were cut from teacher training programs, after-school programs, and literacy programs. One program eliminated altogether served school districts that don’t generate property taxes—in particular, for Native American youth on Indian reservations.

At the same time, $1 billion was allocated to create a private school voucher program, and federal support for charter schools is expanding significantly. An NPR report described these measures as “redistributing funds from poorer schools and potentially poorer districts to richer ones.”

Now Betsy DeVos, a long-time Christian fascist opponent of public education who has said her involvement in education is to “advance God’s Kingdom,” is secretary of education in the Trump/Pence regime. Her life has been dedicated to undermining public education in the name of “school choice.” She pioneered Michigan’s charter school initiative, now about 20 years old. Charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, often have an overt fundamentalist Christian orientation and infuse Christian theologies into their instruction. Their establishment is a crucial component of the overall consolidation of the fascist regime. One impact of the promotion and growth of this outlook and these schools in the education of millions of youth is to indoctrinate them with blind obedience and slavish acceptance of what they’re instructed, and to undermine their basis to develop a capacity for critical thinking, and a scientific method that pursues objective truth.

The attacks on public education spending Trump launched are intended to be the beginning of a larger assault. Ask yourself—what is the value of a system that degrades the education of its children? What is the value of a system that has contempt for people charged with the education of its youth? What is the value of a system that relentlessly extracts profits from institutions supposedly charged with education of children and youth?

An Unwritten Future

As we go to press, governors in Arizona and Colorado are hinting they may make some concessions to the striking teachers. The Democratic Party is working to channel discontent over attacks on public education into support for them in this year’s elections.

The situation remains in flux, but further attempts to undermine, and possibly eliminate, public education are certain. The impulses driving people to protest can be part of the complex swirl that can contribute to, and possibly spark, further outpourings and struggles. While the teacher walkouts haven’t directly opposed the fascist regime, they can contribute to the general atmosphere of protest rippling through society—March for our Lives, the Women’s March, and others. Different sections of people are being propelled into political life and activity, confronting big issues and forcing others in society more broadly to confront them. This is having a positive social impact. But all this must go further. The ferment developing among tens of thousands of teachers and their allies needs to be part of a mix that contributes to the building of a movement that aims to drive out the Trump/Pence regime.

This is a situation where there is a great need and opportunity for revolutionaries to go in the midst of the ferment and sharply expose the utter worthlessness of this system—a system that not only fucks up the education of children but commits countless other outrages and horrors against the people here and around the world... a system that needs to be swept off the stage of history through actual revolution. To let people know that there is leadership for the movement for that revolution in Bob Avakian and the party he leads, the Revolutionary Communist Party—and a concrete and visionary plan for a radically new and much better society, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.


Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.