Texas Teachers Should Be Allowed to Strike



Milwaukee Public School Teachers and supporters picket outside Milwaukee Public Schools Administration Building

By Bernice Chen, Opinions Editor

For the second time in recent months, teachers in America went on strike against their employers. Thousands of educators and supporters to the cause in Los Angeles, California, initiated a strike on Jan. 14, marking an unusual start to the new year. Protestors walked picket lines and held up signs, calling for smaller class sizes, increased staffing, and higher salaries. In response to the protests, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest public school district in the United States, has negotiated with the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) organization representing the picketers, and struck a deal to lessen the tensions.

The last time Los Angeles was faced with teacher strikes was in 1989. Fortunately for the disgruntled protestors, California law permits educators to go on strike, according to San Jose v. Operating Engineers Local Union and recognizes the rights of teachers to bargain for better working conditions under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act. However, in the majority of states (35 plus the District of Columbia, to be exact), governments prohibit this practice.

One of these states, also known as a right-to-work state, is Texas. According to Texas State Law passed in 1947, if educators organize or participate in strikes, they would be at risk of “forfeit[ing] all civil service rights, reemployment rights, and any other rights, benefits, and privileges the employee enjoys as a result of public employment or former public employment.” They could lose their teaching certificates and pensions they got as a benefit from being a public employee of the state.

Last year, when teachers all across the nation and in states such as Washington, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma went on strike, many teachers in Texas wanted to join the national movement and demand more funding for public education. Texas is one of 12 states which has experienced the deepest cuts in general K-12 education funding in the past decade, and is ranked 26th out of the 50 states in terms of how much teachers make. In 2008, only about 49% of the cost of public education was covered, and in 2016, partly because of the lack of funding for schools, teachers in Texas earned about $6,500 below the national average for teacher pay, which is not all that high in the first place at roughly $58,000. However, because of the restriction placed by the law they were unable to protest the unfavorable circumstances that they share with their fellow educators.

Funding is continuing to decrease even as population and demand for an educated workforce increase. Teachers are justifiably unsatisfied with the lack of support they are receiving, but the government isn’t paying attention to their requests. In 2016, the Texas Supreme Court ruled on a legal dispute that the state’s funding of public schools was good enough to be counted as constitutional. Despite the justices adding that the system needed to be improved, the court didn’t give any mandate to provide solutions, and the topic later became obsolete. “School finance reform never got a serious consideration in the Senate,” former Texan House Speaker Joe Straus said in an interview. “The governor seldom spoke of it at all.”

If teachers’ opinions aren’t being taken seriously, they need a form of leverage to make themselves heard by lawmakers. Without the right to strike, educators have no guarantee that the government will listen to them even if they voice their complaints, and may never get fair treatment or consideration in state budgets or policies. Strikes are not always a successful solution to this problem, but in states such as West Virginia and now California, the protests are getting immediate results that are benefiting both students and teachers. They also influence the education system in other ways. Raising pay and improving work conditions would likely encourage efficient teaching methods, as teachers would feel more satisfied with their job if it was able to pay them well and the environment was comfortable to operate in, and having more resources allows the teachers to better structure their course material. On top of that, recent walkouts acted as “a catalyst for educators to run for office to fix the state and local governments that failed them,” according to the American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, which could provide more assistance to the education system in the long term.

Texas, along with other states that mark teacher strikes illegal, should reverse this restriction and show that they are willing to listen to those who wish to make education better. Improving working conditions, increasing budgetary funds and teacher pay, and making class sizes smaller are all crucial parts of refining the system. They incentivize effective teaching and lend flexibility to schools so that they can purchase resources that enhance students’ learning. “Students need adequate supplies [and] individual teacher attention…if they are expected to thrive in the classroom,” the Houston Chronicle writes. When states fail to place education reform as a priority, which is currently the situation happening all across the United States, they neglect these needs and students’ learning suffers. Education is an important and necessary element to provide knowledge and life skills that prepare students for their future, and it ought to be treated as such.