Speaking of raging on, teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky rallied at their respective statehouses this week to demand higher pay, more education spending, and higher pension payments. Arizona educators could be next in line for a widespread walkout.
All this striking started in West Virginia, where teachers won a 5 percent raise after closing classrooms for nine days. Teachers unions are encouraging the activism, but conservative analysts note the unions are part of the problem.
Unions dig deep into teachers’ pockets. Dues can be as much as $600 to $1,000 a year. That’s a lot for a teacher who must take a second (or third, or fourth!) job just to make ends meet. Where do all those dues go? In part to pay some pretty fat salaries for union officials. In West Virginia, where teachers make about $46,000, employees at the West Virginia Education Association make close to six figures.
Pensions, at the crux of the educator anger in Kentucky, also stake a large claim to overall education funding. One analysis shows pension costs have more than doubled in the last decade. Dividing the pension costs per pupil helps illustrate the toll those payments take on the education system as a whole. In 2004, the per-pupil pension cost sat at about $500. By 2015, it had risen to about $1,050. The pension costs amounted to 4.8 percent of overall education spending in 2004, compared to 8.9 percent in 2015.
Relatively modest pay increases might help teachers in the short term, but they won’t vent the pressure building in chronically underfunded pension plans. They also won’t encourage union leaders to take a smaller piece of the pie. Until teachers and lawmakers work together to solve those problems, educators will continue to feel the paycheck pinch. —L.J.