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Teacher Walkouts: A State By State Guide

The West Virginia teachers strike in mid-February started a movement. Here’s a look at what the issues are and where it’s spread, including Colorado, Arizona and Kentucky.

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It’s been nine weeks since teachers in West Virginia walked out of their classrooms to protest low wages and rising health care costs. That sparked a movement that has spread to a handful of other states where teachers have fought — or are fighting — not just for higher wages but also increased spending, more pay for support staff and, in some cases, to stop proposed changes to their pensions.

In fact, so much has happened in the past two months that we thought we’d put together a refresher, state by state.

Arizona

Thousands of teachers across the state are expected to walk off the job tomorrow. That’s after Arizona educators voted overwhelmingly last week in support of an organized protest. Their demands include an increase in school funding — enough to return to pre-recession levels — and a big lift in salaries, enough to get them to the national average of $58,950. In 2016-17, Arizona teachers earned $47,403, on average.

“I think that educators are ready to stay out for the duration and force legislators to strategically invest in our schools the way that we did ten years ago,” Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, tells NPR. AEA, the state’s largest union, is working hand-in-hand to coordinate the walkouts with Arizona Educators United, a grassroots organization behind the state’s #RedforED movement.

“The educators of Arizona sent an incredibly strong message,” Noah Karvelis, spokesman for Arizona Educators United, tweeted after the walkout votes were tallied. “We will not allow our legislature to neglect our students, families and educators any longer.”

In an attempt to avert a walkout, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, promised teachers a 20 percent pay raise by 2020, tweeting: “I am committed to getting teachers this raise and am working to get this passed at the Legislature. We need teachers teaching, and kids learning.”

The governor’s office says the money would come from a combination of increased revenue and small cuts. In a fact sheet, Ducey’s office explains that the state can spend more money on schools and teachers because “revenues are on the rise and have been higher than originally projected, combined with a reduction in state government operating budgets through strategic efficiencies, caseload savings, and a rollback of governor’s office proposals.”

But Thomas and Karvelis — and the teachers they represent — aren’t buying that explanation. “No funding tricks, no one-time fixes, no smoke and mirrors” says Thomas, “our teachers were absolutely disgusted.”

He and Karvelis rejected the governor’s proposal because, they say, not all teachers would receive pay hikes — and the money for those that would get them would come at the expense of other important programs.

Colorado

Teachers in Colorado are also set to walk out Thursday or Friday. Several hundred showed up at the state Capitol last week to voice a range of familiar concerns.

Teacher pay in Colorado is relatively low. The average teacher salary is $46,506, compared with $58,950 nationally. According to one study, the state ranks last in wage competitiveness. Also on teachers’ list of complaints: underfunding of schools and efforts to scale back pension benefits.

But there are a few important differences between Colorado and the other states that have seen teacher protests. And those differences mean that lobbying lawmakers for a salary or funding increase isn’t as straight-forward here — even with the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

For one thing, Colorado voters passed a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the early ’90s. Here’s how reporter Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio explained TABOR for NPR’s School Money project:

“It required that voters, not lawmakers, have the final say on tax increases, and it capped tax revenue. Anything the state raised over that cap — typically in boom years — would be refunded to taxpayers.”

In short, teachers have to take their funding arguments to the people.

“It’s gotta be a ballot,” says Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, the union that represents 35,000 educators across the state. While previous ballot measures to raise school funding have failed, Dallman says Colorado teachers will try again in November.

Another big challenge for teachers boils down to two words: local control. Even if lawmakers are willing to repurpose money from elsewhere in the state’s budget to raise teachers’ salaries, Dallman says, they can’t. Not easily, anyway.

“We don’t have a statewide salary schedule, and so, when new money is freed up, it really is up to a local school district whether or not they want to agree to a raise,” says Dallman. “That’s the beauty of local control.”

Oklahoma

While protests are just gearing up in Arizona and Colorado, the dust is settling in Oklahoma. Though the outcome, and what to make of it, is still in dispute.

Teachers walked out on April 2, hoping to win increases in school funding and more pay for support staff. Lawmakers passed a $6,000 pay raise for educators in late March — before the walkout had begun.

After striking for nine days and winning no new concessions, teachers returned to their classrooms. The move, which was supported by union leaders, frustrated some protesters.

“In reality, we are truly, literally in a worse position than when we started,” says Larry Cagle, who leads a grassroots teachers group called Oklahoma Teachers United. “The unions were horribly complicit in this meltdown.”

Cagle says independent teachers led the way to the strike but made a mistake allowing the state’s largest teachers union, the Oklahoma Education Association, to negotiate on their behalf. He worries that the new money lawmakers have promised teachers simply won’t materialize.

Ed Allen, leader of the Oklahoma City chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, says that’s not something teachers need to worry about. It’s up to lawmakers, Allen says, to follow through on the deal, and, “if the money isn’t there, they are going to have to find the funds to pay for it.”

The unions aren’t completely satisfied with the strike’s outcome either. “Quite frankly, we’re angry that the legislature — the Senate in particular — wasn’t willing to talk about funding any more for education,” says OEA President Alicia Priest. “That is an indictment on our legislature, and that’s where the anger should be directed.”

Still, union leaders say, these walkouts did achieve something. Priest says the bill to raise teacher pay is part of the OEA’s three-year plan to make up the $1 billion in education funding that has been cut in the past decade.

Politically, the Oklahoma strike tested union strength and credibility in a state where employees can’t be compelled to join a teachers union or pay union dues. More than half of all states are so-called right-to-work states — including Arizona, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

“It has been harder and harder to draw our younger teachers into the union and see the need for the union,” says Allen of the Oklahoma City AFT. But, he believes, “it’s a teacher’s cost of doing business, your union membership.”

For Cagle, though, the experience provides a cautionary tale for other states considering a walkout: “If there’s one thing that Arizona needs to know today — it’s don’t give the union the mic. Because they’re not powerful enough.”

Kentucky

The fight here isn’t over teacher pay, exactly, but teacher compensation. A pair of studies — here and here — show teacher salaries in Kentucky are more competitive than they are in either Arizona or Oklahoma. But the commonwealth’s pension system is in trouble. Its unfunded obligations have ballooned in recent years, and lawmakers have struggled to contain them.

“Over the last 10 years, they have essentially doubled the amount of money they’re putting into the pension plan, and it’s still not enough,” says Chad Aldeman, the editor of teacherpensions.org.

Recently, Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, warned: “If we don’t change anything, the system will fail, and most of the people now teaching will never see one cent of a retirement plan.”

So, in a surprise move last month, Republicans fast-tracked a dramatic reimagining of the state’s pension system, including something called a cash-balance plan for new teachers, by attaching it to a sewage bill.

“The biggest difference is, with the existing plan, you know exactly what your retirement is going to be before you retire,” says Beau Barnes, general counsel for Kentucky’s Teachers’ Retirement System.

Under this new cash-balance plan, which is somewhere between a traditional pension and a 401(k), Barnes says teachers won’t know how much money they’ll receive each month until they leave the classroom. In short: It introduces a new level of uncertainty in a state where teachers don’t enjoy the safety of Social Security.

When teachers realized this was happening, thousands converged on the Capitol in Frankfort to protest the pension changes. While these changes are here to stay, Republican lawmakers did override the governor’s veto of a new, two-year operating budget that increases per-student spending, in part, by raising the state’s cigarette tax.

West Virginia

And finally, the beginning: A statewide strike in West Virginia ignited the movement by teachers around the country. On Feb. 22, educators left their classrooms, demanding higher pay and relief from rising health care costs.

Teachers didn’t head back to class until March 7, a day after the legislature passed a 5 percent pay raise for all state workers, including teachers. The governor has also convened a task force to explore ways to rein in health insurance costs.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.
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7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea

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7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea.

Preliminary reports warn tsunami waves could hit areas within 300km of the earthquake’s epicentre.

The quake hit off the coast New Britain region of Papua New Guinea earlier today. (Daily Star)

This is a breaking story and will be updated shortly

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NY Man Planned to Blow Himself Up at Washington Mall

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Police and FBI agents searched a Hudson Valley home Wednesday after learning about a man who was allegedly building a bomb in order to blow himself up in Washington D.C., two law enforcement officials told News 4 New York.

Investigators said they were concerned the man, identified as Paul Rosenfeld, at the home on Slocum Avenue in Orangetown was in the process of acquiring bomb parts.

Officials tell News 4 Rosenfeld had no criminal history but had told a reporter in Pennsylvania he planned to blow himself up on the Washington Mall around Election Day because he was angry about the country’s direction. 

He had no plans to hurt anyone else, officials said. He is believed to be a lone actor not affiliated with any international terror group or ideology. 

Full Article at https://nts24.co.uk/2A2oWjM 

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Trump ‘demanding’ answers from Saudis about missing writer

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of a well-known Saudi writer and government critic Turkish authorities say was slain inside his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.

Trump said he plans to invite to the White House the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Members of Congress have grown increasingly insistent that the administration find out what happened to Khashoggi. The Saudi government has become a closer ally under Trump and some lawmakers warn that relations could be jeopardized if it turns out the kingdom was involved in his disappearance.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to the fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who had been waiting outside the consulate when Khashoggi went inside and has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.

Trump said nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead. He also said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, a former insider in Saudi government circles who has been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the past year after fleeing a crackdown on intellectuals and activists in the country.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the U.S. request for information.

While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Prince Mohammed and end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, they could throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “there will definitely be consequences” if it turns out the Saudis were involved in Khashoggi disappearance. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would be “devastating” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.” But he said it was unclear whether the Trump administration was willing to “go beyond words.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he’ll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He told local radio in his home state Tuesday that he wants to end the arms shipments if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”

Trump’s comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration on the Khashoggi case. Officials have expressed concern but refused even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if Turkish allegations turn out to be true. Pompeo has called on the Saudi government to conduct a thorough investigation and to be transparent about its results.

The reaction from European governments has also been cautious. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Saudi counterpart that if media reports about Khashoggi were correct, it “would be extremely concerning and the U.K. will treat the incident very seriously,” according to the Foreign Office.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumors” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi. Saudi officials maintain he left the consulate shortly after entering, although it has failed to provide evidence.

Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said reports suggested the journalist was victim of “state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.” He demanded answers in a statement Tuesday, saying “Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable.”

Analysts said there were reasons for skepticism about the Turkish account. Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey’s support for Qatar in that country’s yearlong dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power, is also annoyed by Ankara’s rapprochement with the kingdom’s Shiite archrival, Iran.

Saudi authorities’ failure to provide video footage of Khashoggi’s movements at the consulate to rebut the Turkish allegations have only deepened suspicions.

The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. That’s unlikely to change, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for an expected plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Indication of those stakes came within four months of Trump taking office, when Saudi Arabia became his first destination on a presidential trip and he announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales.

Prince Mohammed has introduced some economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. The flip side, however, is that he’s also squelched dissent and imprisoned activists. He has championed the three-year military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has pushed that nation toward famine and caused many civilian deaths.

Still, the Trump administration last month stood behind its support for that campaign with weapons, logistics and intelligence, certifying that the Saudis were taken adequate steps to prevent civilian despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chair of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said U.S. support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won’t endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests. Even under the Obama administration, which had difficult relations with Riyadh compared with Trump, there were some $65 billion in completed arms sales.

“The U.S.-Saudi relationship is certainly not about shared moral values,” House said. “It’s about shared security interests.”

___

Associated Press writers Susannah George, Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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