Politicians often brand teachers as whiners -- but most Americans agree that teachers are underpaid and deserve the right to strike

  • Teacher pay is causing conflict between teachers and their legislators in some parts of the US, and teacher walkouts have attracted ire from some US politicians.
  • But while their elected representatives may disagree, the majority of Americans think teachers in their states are underpaid, according to a poll from Business Insider’s partner MSN.
  • According to the poll, 77% of Democrats said teachers are underpaid, while 55% of Republicans agreed.

Since February, Teachers lobbying for higher teacher pay have staged walkouts in states like Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Arizona.

But while several politicians have spoken out against increased teacher pay – and some have even taken measures against protesting educators – Americans agree that teachers should be paid more.

In attempts to quash a strike, two Republican lawmakers in Colorado introduced a bill that would fine teachers $US500 a day and send them to jail for up to six months for striking.

Maria Syms, assistant attorney general for the state of Arizona, wrote in an Arizona Central op-ed last week that the protesting educators are spearheading “a national socialist revolution.”

And Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said during a Monday roundtable with the nation’s top educators that these protests were happening “at the expense of kids,” HuffPost reported on Monday.

Democratic politicians have also largely kept quiet on the issue, the Daily Beast reported.

But nationwide, the majority of Americans agree that teachers are underpaid – and in the states that have played host to walkouts, most residents say they that teachers should be allowed to strike.

According to a poll from Business Insider’s partner MSN, 67% of Americans think teachers are underpaid. Among Democrats, 77% believe they’re underpaid, compared to 55% of Republicans.

MSN polls its readers and then uses machine learning to model how a representative sample of the US would have responded, using big data, such as the Census. It’s as accurate as a traditional, scientific survey.

Nationally, 64% of Americans also say teachers should be allowed to strike.

Teachers “have got so little to lose that this is the option they’re choosing rather than be silent,” Lily Eskelsen GarcĂ­a, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s biggest teacher’s union, told The Washington Post last week.

So, do American’s perceptions on teacher pay match reality?

Educators earned 23% less than the average college graduate, according to a 2016 Economic Policy Institute report. At 63 cents on the dollar, according to the EPI report, teachers in Arizona had the most dramatic wage gap compared to other college graduates.

As Business Insider’s Abby Jackson previously reported, the gap between public teachers and other public officials ballooned to the largest point ever in 2015.

Teachers in other highly-developed countries are also considerably better compensated, Business Insider reported.

Elementary school teachers, at the pinnacle of their careers, in Luxembourg earn $US122,000, and educators in Switzerland earn $US84,000 annually. In South Korea, primary school teachers earn $US79,000 a year.

Meanwhile, at the very top of the pay scale, American schoolteachers may earn $US68,000. The national average public school teacher pay for the 2016 to 2017 school year was $US59,850.

In Colorado, where protests are ongoing, teachers’ adjusted pay has dropped by 15% since the 1999 to 2000 school year (adjusted for inflation), reported Business Insider’s Matthew Michaels.

In Arizona, teachers’ pay is 10.4% lower than it was in 1999 to 2000, Business Insider reported. Its state government slashed per-pupil funding by 37% between 2008 and 2015, according to The Washington Post.

With Arizona legislators passing a budget on Thursday granting a 20% boost in pay over the next three years, the walkout in Arizona has ended.

Residents in these states are particularly sympathetic to teachers, agreeing that teachers aren’t paid enough and deserve the right to strike. More than 75% of Arizonans and nearly 77% of Colorado residents said teachers are underpaid. In Arizona, 67% said teachers should be allowed to strike, while 70% said the same in Colorado.

Some conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation argue that teachers’ benefits – including retirement bonuses and summer vacations – disqualify educators from claiming they’re underpaid. A report from the Heritage Foundation also argues that the comparatively-lower test scores that teachers receive on the SAT, GRE, and other standardised tests justifies their low pay.

But education advocates disagree and, in some districts, worry that, with such low pay, qualified educators are turning elsewhere for work.

“Give our students the schools they deserve. Give us the schools we want to work in. And give us the schools that will stop educators from leaving our state and teaching somewhere else,” Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas said in a speech last month, according to CNNMoney.

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