As teachers in the historically red states of Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona are following in the footsteps of educators in West Virginia and turning out in droves to demand higher pay, reliable pensions, and greater government investments in the public school system, some Republican state leaders are sticking to their narrative that teachers are simply asking for too much—a strategy that could backfire during the November midterm elections.
Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday compared the protesting teachers to spoiled children.
"Teachers want more," Fallin told CBS News. "But it's kind of like a teenager wanting a better car."
Her comments followed fiery remarks by Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who last month said that educators who were protesting legislation that would slash their retirement benefits were "ignorant," "remarkably selfish," and "throwing a temper tantrum."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), meanwhile, pushed back against the notion that these mass mobilizations are taking place in "red" states and thanked the protesting teachers for the "leading the nation in the fight for workers' rights and adequate funding for education."
Somebody told me that West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky are "red" states. They got that wrong. These are the states where teachers are now leading the nation in the fight for workers' rights and adequate funding for education. Thank you teachers! https://t.co/4BDgn3v0iK— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) April 3, 2018
Even as Republican state leaders dismiss and insult the educators rallying for their and their students' futures, the teachers insist they won't be backing down any time soon—bolstering the argument by advocates such as Jeff Bryant that "this grassroots upsurge is right on time for primary season," and "education could be a key issue for Democrats to use against their Republican opponents in midterm general elections in November."
"We're going to have a lot of teachers at the ballot box who I don't think would normally go in a midterm year," Oklahoma teacher Noah Karvelis told the New York Times. "If I were a legislator right now, I'd be honestly sweating bullets."
Yesterday, 36,000 Oklahoma teachers took part in a massive walkout. Today, the music teachers among them played an unlikely anthem: Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It." https://t.co/VmKjX7Us7a pic.twitter.com/Avy463F8z0— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 4, 2018
"You have to be persistent to sustain," Oklahoma history teacher Jack Reavis told the Guardian as he circled the State Capitol carrying a 10-foot sign that read "Persist like Clara Luper," in reference to a high school teacher who worked for decades to desegregate Oklahoma City.
"Most of these legislators don't think we will last a week," Reavis added, "but I think we will last longer."
In this segment that aired on the "Today" show Wednesday, one Oklahoma teacher described the struggle as one of "life and death" for him and his family:
“I feel like they [legislators] think it’s a joke to be a teacher.” Schools in Oklahoma are closed for a 3rd straight day as teacher protests pushing for better pay and more funding continue pic.twitter.com/z9fnP7B2c5— TODAY (@TODAYshow) April 4, 2018
As the strike in Oklahoma entered its third day on Wednesday, teachers in Arizona are organizing "walk-ins" and planning for aimed at educating their communities on the struggles for adequate pay that they face across the state.
Although Arizona teachers have not yet called for a statewide walk-out, Derek Harris, a band teacher at Dietz K-8 school in the Tucson Unified School District and a lead organizer with Arizona Educators United, told the Arizona Daily Star he believes that it "is an inevitability unless something very drastic happens."
"We know there's more money in the budget that could be given to us than what is being offered," Harris added. "We've said that we don't want to strike, but we will. And the Legislature still hasn't finalized their budget yet. So it's their move."