By: Vivian Bui and Vivienne Tran
In early April, teachers from Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia went on strike to protest the lack of funding for education and teacher salaries. These protests consisted of teachers walking out to demand better pay and funding, which are struggles that also exist in the Novato Unified School District. Schools with participating teachers were closed for the duration of the strikes. The strikes in Arizona ended on May 3, as the state legislature granted a 20 percent pay raise for teachers.
French teacher Jeffrey Moore called the strikes “regrettable” but “overdue and necessary,” adding that “teachers in the states that are currently striking have been grossly underpaid for many years so we’re seeing the build-up of that frustration now.”
Moore is also a member of the Novato Federation of Teachers, a union that represents all NUSD teachers on contract issues that include salary, insurance, class size, contact hours and attendance, discipline, and maternity leave. Moore believes that teachers affect unions more than unions affect teachers.
“Unions try to protect teachers from being taken advantage of according to the application of our contract with NUSD,” Moore said.
Teachers who participated in the Arizona walkouts sought to challenge legislation that was not providing enough school funding for students to have a proper education through tax increases. According to the National Education Association, Arizona state lawmakers cut funding per student by 36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015.
Arizona and Oklahoma are ranked 48 and 47 in per-capita student spending in the United States. California is ranked 22 out of 50 states in expenditures per student according to an enrollment report from the National Education Association in the fall of 2016. In comparison, schools in the Tucson Unified District in Arizona have an education attainment that is 1.2 points below the grade level average, while NUSD has an overall grade that is 0.2 above grade level average.
One of the main reasons for the low rank in education can be seen in the lack of school funding. According to NUSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations, Yancy Hawkins, school districts in California are not adequately funded. The total revenue for NUSD in 2017-2018 was roughly more than 80 million dollars. District spending, however, exceeded this amount by three million dollars, with 85 percent of the budget going towards salaries and benefits.
“Our state’s funding is well below the national average, and given the cost of living in California, program is impacted,” Hawkins said.
The living wage in Marin County is $81,817 per year and $50,395 per year in Tulsa County, Oklahoma. The ratio between teacher’s earning wage to living wage in California, which is 0.66, is lower than Oklahoma’s, which is 0.76.
While there are many factors that affect educational success, lack of funding is one of the main reason for low academic achievement and the cause of teacher strikes. When asked what he believes contributes to student success, Principal Mark Sims said, “Teachers; they have the most control of success or failure of the school.”