There is a crisis threatening American education that does not involve guns and the mainstream media is ignoring it. The crisis is the criminal shortfall in education funding and the labor unrest it is breeding.
A teacher’s strike closed every public school in the state of West Virginia between February 23 and February 27, CNN reported. The strike affected an estimated 277,000 students in 680 schools in 55 counties yet it was virtually ignored by the mainstream media.
Around 20,000 teachers walked off the job because of low pay and expensive health insurance, National Public Radio reported. An illegal walkout and school closures were the only way that teachers were able to get Governor James C. Justice (R) and state legislators to pay attention to them.
The strike was triggered by the West Virginia State Senate’s decision to eliminate a 1% annual increase for teachers, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. That and rising health insurance premiums which effectively cut pay forced the walkout.
Justice’s efforts failed and the strike was still in effect on March 2, 2018, The New York Times reported. The teachers union said they would stay out of class until they received a 5% pay increase.
The crisis is far from over because the state legislature will still have to approve the increases and find the money to pay for them. The underlying causes of the strike; low pay, rising health insurance costs, and underfunding of the state pension plan for teachers are still there.
Why is Media Ignoring West Virginia?
The West Virginia teachers strike was the worst labor unrest in the United States in many years. It included a storming of the state capitol by a mob of strikers demanding an audience with the state senate, yet the big media was conspicuous with its absence.
The lack of teachers’ strike coverage must be compared with the media’s laser-like focus on the fallout from the murders at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. There have been countless news stories about the numerous protests that event triggered, and a vast amount of coverage of the visits to state capitols, Congress, and the White House by student protestors.
Yes, the murder of 17 people was a horrendous tragedy our leaders must confront but that event affected just one school. The crisis in West Virginia affected 680 schools and 277,000 students yet according to our national media, it did not exist.
I am sure there were parents in West Virginia who only learned about the crisis when their kids walked home and told them school was closed. Disturbingly, the same parents probably knew all about Parkland.
Parkland and West Virginia demonstrate how Income Inequality Affects Media Coverage
Disturbingly, the media focused its coverage on a tragedy that occurred in an affluent largely white suburb; while ignoring a crisis in a white-working class state. Demographics make a bothersome statement about media priorities here.
The average household income in Parkland, Florida, is $126,905 a year, Sperling’s Best Places noted. The median household income in West Virginia was $43,385 a year in 2016, the Department of Numbers reported. The national median household income was $57,617 a year in 2016.
It appears that income inequality is now affecting media coverage. If you are poor; or live in a poor area, tragedies that occur to you do not matter. Even dramatic action on the part of the poor and desperate such as strikes is now widely ignored.
Where is Trump? Where are the Democrats? Where is Bernie?
The national media is not the only group missing in action in West Virginia. Our so-called national political leaders were conspicuous with their absence from the West Virginia teacher’s strike.
President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) the self-styled champion of the white working class; who is a folk hero to some West Virginians, was not there. Nor were any of the Democrats making noises about running for president in 2020 spotted in West Virginia during the strike. To add insult to injury the leader of the American left; and self-proclaimed champion of unions, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) was also absent from the scene.
Did Trump even send out a single Tweet about West Virginia? Was it even mentioned in Congress? If so I missed and I imagine I am not the only person who did.
The Education Crisis the Media is Ignoring
The media and the politicians had better start paying attention because the West Virginia crisis is likely to be repeated around the country. Teachers’ pay is incredibly low in many states and getting worse.
There are five states where teachers are paid less than in West Virginia; Mississippi, Arizona, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and North Carolina, Ed Week calculated. The average salary for a teacher in Mississippi; the state with the lowest salaries for educators, is $42,043 a year, while the pay for a teacher in Oklahoma is $42,647 a year. The average West Virginia teacher earned around $45,477 in 2017.
Nor is criminally low pay for teachers confined to poor rural states. The starting salary for a teacher in California; the nation’s richest state, is around $40,000, Ed Week reported. The average teacher in California is paid $72,050 a year.
Given those numbers, more strikes and walkouts by teachers are a certainty. Add rising health-insurance premiums and pension troubles to the mix and you have a recipe for labor unrest in the United States on a scale not seen since the 1890s.
Should Teachers March on Washington?
One has to wonder what teachers will have to do to get politicians and the media to pay attention to this looming education crisis.
March on Washington, stage sit-ins at the Capitol and the White House? Occupy the state legislatures and the governor’s mansions? Will they need to march to New York and Washington and occupy the newsrooms; or TV studios, to get media coverage?
Will violence be the next step? Historically, such labor grievances have led to mass violence in America. One hopes that violence is not the result and we will not see governors deploying the National Guard or state police against teachers.
Such events are likely because more money for teachers’ pay is needed, and states and school districts do not have it. One reason why they don’t have the money for salaries is that education is funded by property taxes, and property values in states like West Virginia are collapsing.
Congress should Fund Pay Increases for Teachers
The crisis can be easily solved on the federal level. Congress can simply appropriate enough money for states like West Virginia to bring teachers’ salaries up to the national average (around $58,064 a year in 2016 according to Money.)
Governor Justice estimated that raising West Virginia teacher’s salaries by 3% next year would cost $58 million, NPR reported. That’s chump change compared to the $13 billion the Navy is spending on the new aircraft carrier U.S.S. Gerald Ford; a warship many naval experts think is obsolete and useless in modern warfare.
A Congress that can find $13 billion for such a questionable weapons system should have no problem coming up with a few billion dollars for teachers’ pay. By my estimation, it would cost around $9 billion to double teachers’ salaries in West Virginia for a year.
For that appropriation, the average teacher in West Virginia would earn a salary of $90,954 a year. I imagine there would be little worry about labor unrest with that kind of pay. Among other things, it would make West Virginia teachers the highest paid in the country, and there would probably be hundreds of applicants for every teaching job in that state.
Perhaps teachers should march on Capitol Hill and demand more pay from Congress. One thing is clear more labor unrest in the nation’s schools is inevitable. Low-pay for teachers is triggering a crisis that will lead to social and political unrest.
Update: this article has been changed to include the failure of efforts to end the teacher’s strike.