Thousands of teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky this week protest long-stagnant teacher pay and the school budgets. The protests continue on Wednesday demanding lawmakers pass a tax package that would raise another $200 million for the state school budget to provide up-to-date books and other classroom materials.
Teachers’ claims that their salary cannot meet their needs, cannot support their living. Therefore many of them relinquish their career as a teacher looking for a new profession where they can get paid better than are paid as teachers.
Oklahoma ranked 47th in spending per student, according to National Education Association data, and its average salary for a high school teacher is $42,460, away below from the $58,030 national median according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.
“I decided to teach because I felt it would be a job I could do for a couple of years and I could give back to my community,” Bowman said. “But I fell in love with the profession and here I am eleven years later.”
Over his 11 years of teaching, pay raises have not kept pace with the cost of living in the fast-growing Phoenix area. "Many of my colleagues wait tables, mow lawns or drive for ride-share services to make ends meet," Bowman added who has been able to stay because his wife, a designer, earns considerably more than him.
As the teachers struggle financially, education union leaders warn that the cuts in school spending across the country are scaring away future teachers.
“We are at a crisis now where if you go to the colleges of education, every single one of them will tell you they are seeing a drop in the number of applicants,” said the president of the National Education Association union. "Realizing that low wages will make it difficult for teachers to pay for the advanced degrees that the field requires. Parents are telling their sons and daughters, ‘Don’t become a teacher.’” She added.
Reporting by Bernie Woodall, and Barbara Goldberg