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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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Legendary singer Aretha Franklin dies at age 76

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Legendary singer Aretha Franklin has died.

The 76-year-old Queen of Soul was said to be “surrounded” by her closest friends and family in recent days, after battling extensive health problems in recent years.

The legendary singer was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and delivered her most recent performance at the Elton John AIDS Foundation party in New York last November.

This is a Breaking News Story.

Timeline:
1954 – Sings her first solo at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit.

1956 – Along with her two sisters, performs backup on her father’s gospel recording for Gotham Records.

1960 – Leaves Detroit for New York, signs with Columbia Records and releases first album, “The Great Aretha Franklin.”

1967 – Leaves Columbia Records after an unsuccessful attempt at developing a jazz style; signs with Atlantic Records; wins Grammy Award Best R&B Recording for “Respect.”

1967-1974 – Wins a total of ten Grammy Awards.

April 9, 1968 – Sings “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 20, 1977 – Performs “God Bless America” at the inauguration gala of President Jimmy Carter.

1980 – Appears in the movie “The Blues Brothers” and performs the song “Think”; leaves Atlantic Records for Arista Records.

1981 – Wins Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Hold On I’m Comin’.”

1985 – Wins Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Freeway Of Love.”

January 3, 1987 – Is the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1987 – Wins two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for “Aretha” and Best R&B Performance by a Duo, with George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).”

1988 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance, Female for “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.”

1991 – Receives the Grammy Legend Award.

January 20, 1993 – Performs “I Dreamed a Dream” at the inauguration ball of President Bill Clinton.

1994 – Receives the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the youngest recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor at that time.

1997 – Performs an aria from Puccini’s La Boheme at the wedding of Vice-President Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna.

February 6, 1998 – Reprises her roll of Mrs. Murphy from “The Blues Brothers” in the sequel “The Blues Brothers 2000.”

February 25, 1998 – Substitutes for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti at the Grammy Awards performing “Nessun Dorma” by Puccini, unrehearsed.

September 1, 1999 – Publishes an autobiography “Aretha: From These Roots,” where she discusses her private and personal life for the first time.

September 22, 1999 – Is named a winner of the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment for the Arts.

2003 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “Wonderful.”

March 2004 – Is hospitalized and released for allergic reaction to antibiotics.

2004 – Starts her own record label, Aretha’s Records.

2005 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “A House Is Not A Home.”

November 5, 2005 – Is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

2006 – After Franklin points out that no Motown talent was appearing in the Detroit Super Bowl halftime show, the NFL asks her to sing the national anthem along with Aaron Neville prior to the game.

2007 – Wins Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance for “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” shared with Mary J. Blige.

February 10, 2008 – Is Grammy’s 2008 MusiCares Person of the Year.

February 14, 2008 – Receives the NAACP Vanguard Award at the annual Image Awards ceremony.

January 20, 2009 – Performs “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

February 2010 – A Snickers commercial starring Franklin and Liza Minnelli airs for the first time.

July 27, 2010 – Appears on stage with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on piano, in Philadelphia, to raise money for charity. Rice is a classical pianist. They perform individually and together, classical, pop and patriotic selections.

August 1, 2010 – Falls in her home, breaking two ribs. The incident forces her to cancel concert appearances for August.

February 25, 2011 – During an interview with Wendy Williams, Franklin reveals a loss of 85 lbs. The ailment that resulted in surgery in December remains undisclosed and a topic of conversation she dismisses with the comment, “I’ve left that behind, I’m feeling wonderful.”

May 3, 2011 – Releases new album, “Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love.”

October 8, 2014  Achieves a milestone in music history by becoming the first female to earn her 100th hit on Billboard’s Hot R&B song chart with “Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version).”

October 21, 2014 – Releases a new album, “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics.”

March 5, 2015 – Performs live on the Motown themed episode of American Idol in Detroit.

September 26, 2015 – Franklin sings “Amazing Grace” at the Festival of Families, one of the events sponsored by the Vatican for Pope Francis‘ visit to Philadelphia.

February 7, 2017 – Franklin announces she will retire from performing in concert after the release of one more album. “I am retiring this year, she told a local television station in Detroit. “I will be recording, but this will be my last year in concert.”

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Car crashes into security barriers outside Houses Of Parliament

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 Armed police surround driver after car smashes into Parliament security barriers

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Kremlin “pleased” with Helsinki summit, US and Western intelligence assesses

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CNN Reports:

Russian officials were “pleased” with the Helsinki summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, US and Western intelligence agencies have found, according to two intelligence sources with knowledge of the assessments.

The assessments, based on a broad range of intelligence, indicate that the Kremlin believes the July 16 summit delivered a better outcome than it had expected, but that Moscow is perplexed that Trump is not delivering more Russia-friendly policies in its aftermath.

The intelligence sources say the Russians were particularly satisfied with the press conference the two leaders gave in Helsinki after Trump and Putin met for about two hours without staff and accompanied only by translators. In the 45-minute press conference, Trump discredited US intelligence and American policies more broadly, saying “the United States has been foolish” about ties with Russia, a country that has engaged in ongoing attacks on US democracy.

A spokesperson for the Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to request for comment.

The administration’s decision last week to impose sanctions on Russia for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter left Russian officials puzzled that the President is not delivering more favorable policies.

Trump has repeatedly called for warmer relations with Moscow, but the Kremlin is neglecting to factor in the considerable role that Congress and others play in US policy-making, a Western intelligence official said.

Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s comments last week reflected the deflated Russian hopes for improved ties with Washington or at least less punitive US policies.

“President Putin said in Helsinki that Russia still has hopes for the creation of a constructive relationship with Washington…We are sorry that often we are not met with cooperation on this account,” Peskov said Aug. 9 in a regular press call with reporters.

Peskov’s comments contrasted sharply with the evaluation Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered immediately after the summit, when he said that the talks had been “better than super.”

Trump’s performance in Helsinki sparked unusually public criticism, even from within his own party.

The administration’s decision to impose the sanctions followed a July 26 letter from GOP Congressman Ed Royce, the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging the White House to comply with a law requiring the US to levy sanctions against countries that violate the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act.

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