After declaring that protesting teachers in his state had a “thug mentality,” Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin took his smears further, setting off a national furor with his statement that he “guaranteed” a child in Kentucky was sexually assaulted because some school districts in the state canceled classes so educators could rally at the Capitol.
Oklahoma Gov. Gov. Mary Fallin also angered educators when she compared teachers pushing for more school funding to “a teenage kid that wants a better car.” That led to one of my favorite teacher protest signs: “Damn those rich teachers and their 98 Camrys.”
While aided by teacher unions, this revolution gained momentum from grassroots foot soldiers tapping into the social media savvy with which Parkland teens ignited a national movement for new gun laws.
Fired-up teachers are harnessing the power of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to command the attention of lawmakers and energize peers. Educators are launching Facebook pages including #RedforED, which references the red teachers wear to symbolize their support for public education in response to what they consider attacks from Washington.
Their concerns grew after the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education; DeVos is a champion of school choice and a critic of what she calls a failing and antiquated public education system. In the past, such troubling statements from an education secretary might have provoked grumbling in the teacher’s lounge. Now, social media is amplifying that grumbling into a roar.
Younger teachers are arriving in their classrooms with a greater fluency in and comfort with social media as a communication and unifying tool, and are wielding it as deftly as their students. To show the effects of lagging funding on the classroom, Oklahoma teachers tweeted photos of ragged textbooks and broken chairs.
Other state employees, parents and students are marching alongside teachers, angry over budgets cuts that have eroded essential services and shortchanged schools. Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arizona are among 29 states still providing less total school funding per student in 2015 than they were in 2008. Georgia was also on that list.
The state budget awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal's signature fully funds the state's K-12 formula for the first time in more than a decade. That influx of new dollars won't make up for years of classroom neglect by the state, according to many teachers. Nor will it address the growing teacher shortage, partly the result of veteran educators urging their own children and students to avoid a profession in which there's more and more responsibility and less and less respect.