Similar struggles have led to recent teacher strikes

Carolyn Thompson
Associated Press

The setting is different, but the complaints of teachers who are out on strike Tuesday in Los Angeles are echoing those heard in walkouts nationwide.

Unlike protests that closed schools last spring in states including West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona, the strike that began Monday is unfolding in a liberal-leaning state and one of the country’s biggest cities.

But it highlights common challenges facing educators across the country. Public education funding in many states has not returned to levels seen before the Great Recession, schools are facing teacher shortages tied to low pay and the pressures of standardized testing and teacher evaluations, and the rise of alternatives to traditional public schools is blamed for eroding already scarce resources.

A look at some of the issues:

School funding

Six years after the 2009 end of the Great Recession, California was among 29 states still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which analyzed spending data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Arizona, Kentucky, W.Va. and Oklahoma cut income tax rates in recent years, further straining finances in an age of more stringent learning standards.

In 2016, California spent $11,495 per pupil. That was up nearly 10 percent from the previous year but still just under the national average and about half of what the highest spending state – New York – committed.

Union leaders say it has left schools without enough nurses, librarians, psychologists and counselors. About 80 percent of the district’s schools lack a full-time nurse, United Teachers Los Angeles said.

Teacher pay

Teachers who were among the nation’s worst-paid educators – with average salaries in the low- to mid-$40,000s – came out of the spring walkouts with wins.

Oklahoma teachers were promised an average $6,100 raise. Arizona teachers won a 20 percent raise over three years, and West Virginia teachers, the first to walk out, secured a 5 percent boost in pay.

California ranks among the top states for average teacher salaries but also for cost of living.

In Los Angeles, where the average home price of more than $600,000 dwarfs the national average, teachers earn between $44,000 and $86,000 a year depending on their education and experience, according to the L.A. County Office of Education.