Job Actions Seen as Signal of Discontent Over Funding
The 12-day strike of West Virginia teachers this month and threatened statewide walkouts elsewhere signal a growing discontent, union officials said last week, with the way schools are funded.
The unrest also underscores, they suggested, the frustration of teachers with the education-reform movement, which is seen as demanding more and more without providing adequate resources.
"There is a very high level of dissatisfaction with the general tendency of government to reform and change education without putting more money into it," said John Hein, the National Education Association's assistant executive director for affiliate services. "You're never going to convince the people doing the job day to day that they don't need more money."
Late last week, teachers in Washington State were discussing whether to recommend a statewide strike at a union assembly this week. And the n.e.a.-New Mexico was polling its members to determine whether they would support a strike for higher salary increases than the 5 percent approved by the New Mexico legislature in a special session. (See related story on page 20.)
Teachers have staged one-day walkouts this school year in Washing4ton State and Utah. In both states, they were protesting a decision by the governor not to use portions of a budget surplus for education.
In Kansas, where the state puts strict limits on local education spending, teachers rallied this month at the Capitol with school-board members and parents to call for more money for schools.
States' Role in Salaries
Although the circumstances underlying the discontent with education budgets vary from state to state, educators interviewed last week struck several common themes.
Many complained that teacher salaries in their states were below the national average of $31,300, or have slipped in recent years when compared with salaries in other states.
Throughout the 1980's, the role of the states in setting teacher salaries has increased, noted Allan Odden, a professor of education at the University of Southern California.
"States before the 1980's tended not to have statewide salary increases and statewide programs to increase beginning teachers' salaries," he said. "The more states do that, the more teachers' groups get active at the state political level."
Several union officials blamed the fact that many legislators are up for re-election this year for what they de8scribed as a reluctance to identify new sources of revenue for education.
Kathy Bell, president of Florida Teaching Profession-n.e.a., charged that "the election is more prevalent in their minds than doing right." Some Florida teachers, she said, have run out of paper and are asking local businesses to save their computer paper for them, so they can make copies on the blank sides.
Pat Tornillo, president of Florida Education Association United, broached this month the possibility of a strike to protest Gov. Bob Martinez's proposed education budget, which would provide teachers with 3 percent raises.
Mr. Tornillo said the budget proposes the lowest per-student increase in education funding since 1968--the year of a three-week statewide teachers' strike.
Ms. Bell said that her union "hasn't taken any stand" on the possibility of a strike. The Florida legislature does not begin its session until next month, she added, noting she remains hopeful the budget will be increased.
In Washington State, lawmakers are making plans for allocating an estimated $800-million budget surplus. House Democrats have proposed spending $34 million of it to increase senior teachers' salaries, but the Washington State Education Association believes much more of the surplus should be allocated to address the state's booming enrollment and projected teacher shortage.
A union task force is considering whether to recommend that teachers stage a statewide strike. The task force will present its recommendations next week at a meeting of the union's Representative Assembly.
"The problem and frustration we have," said C.T. Purdom, the union's vice president, "is that, while the general public recognizes the crisis and is supporting the additional needs, the legislature evidently hasn't gotten the word."
In Utah, teachers recently dropped the threat of a statewide strike after receiving 4.3 percent salary increases. The governor and the legislature also agreed to create a "strategic planning committee" to draft a five-year plan for education.
The agreement was similar to West Virginia legislators' promise to work with teachers to address education's long-term funding needs.
The Utah Education Association's effort to "build a credible strike threat" has given the union new access to state decisionmakers, said Lowell Baum, its executive director. "It's been an excellent thing for us to open that kind of dialogue," he said.