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Tens of thousands of teachers, students, and parents have been protesting at the Oklahoma State Capitol for nearly two weeks, demanding more school funding and higher teacher salaries. (Photo: @ajplus/Twitter)

Group Beloved by Betsy Devos and Koch Brothers Launches Counter-Attack Against Teacher Rebellion

In anti-labor messaging guide, State Policy Network acknowledges teachers are underpaid but urges anti-labor groups to fight their calls for fair wages

Julia Conley

A right-wing coalition, which has received funding from both the Koch Brothers and the billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is launching an aggressive attack on the tens of thousands of teachers and education supporters who have been demanding increased school funding and teacher salaries in recent weeks.

As the Guardian reports, the State Policy Network (SPN) is distributing a guide to anti-labor activists across the nation, with the aim of helping them to discredit the protests that teachers have been organizing in Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arizona.

Such demonstrations, SPN argues in the guide, "hurt kids and low-income families" because they keep students out of schools and can force parents to miss work.

Even the right-wing editorial board of the Washington Post recognizes that it is Republican governments slashing education funding—not striking teachers—that is harming to students in the long run.

"What the teachers are protesting also hurts children—that is, a long-running and systemic disinvestment in public education," wrote the editorial board. "Responsibility therefore lies with the governors and legislatures in these red states who have allowed teacher salaries to get so low."

Notably, while arguing against the protests, SPN also admits that teachers are in fact underpaid, and cautions against portraying educators as ungrateful, as Oklahoma's Republican Governor Mary Fallin suggested last week when she compared the state's teachers—who have gone a decade without a pay increase—to "a teenage kid that wants a better car" after they rejected a $6,100 raise and a $50 million education funding package.

"A message that focuses on teacher hours or summer vacations will sound tone-deaf when there are dozens of videos and social media posts going viral from teachers about their second jobs, teachers having to rely on food pantries, classroom books that are falling apart, paper rationing, etc.," reads the memo.

"It's fascinating that even Koch-funded conservatives recognize that there's huge public support for public education and for treating teachers with respect," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Guardian.

Teachers have stressed that they are fighting for their students' right to a high quality education as well as higher pay for themselves. In Oklahoma, some school districts have moved to four-day weeks to cut costs, while many students have struggled to learn with outdated textbooks and school supply shortages.

The fight for teacher raises has also been waged with children as well as adults in mind. Low salaries have kept qualified Americans from entering the education profession, with teacher training programs reporting a 20 to 53 percent drop in enrollment in recent years. Many teachers have also been forced to leave states where pay is lowest—leaving school districts to lower their hiring standards.

Countering SPN's vision of children suffering through their teachers' protests, many students have joined their teachers in fighting for increased funding across the education system.

"We're not just here for teacher pay raises," high school sophomore Cameron Olbert told a crowd at Oklahoma's State Capitol earlier this month. "We're here for support staff, for art and music programs that have been decimated over the past decade. We’re here for chairs that don't break when we sit in them. We're here for luxuries and opportunities that other states get to take for granted."

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