- The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Students planning to stage another school walkout Friday had better hope their teachers don’t beat them to it.

The latest National School Walkout for gun control, scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, comes with educators in Arizona and Colorado poised to strike for better pay and benefits — meaning that there may be no class for some students to cut in the name of gun control.

In Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia, schools have only recently reopened after shutting down for teacher walkouts, touching off a scramble to finish the curriculum in some districts by extending class hours and adding days to the end of the school year.

“They’ve been out for two weeks, and it’s time for them to get back to school,” said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin in a Friday statement. “Student learning at schools affected by the strike has been halted for nearly two weeks at a critical time in the academic year when federal and state testing requirements need to be completed.”

They boast different political objectives, but the student and teacher walkouts come as evidence that the protest culture that ignited in response to Donald Trump’s election victory in November 2016 has increasingly permeated the public schools.

“You didn’t see teacher strikes like this under Obama, and it’s not as though teacher pay in Oklahoma and West Virginia was higher back then,” said Max Eden, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “The thing is, everything is different now under President Trump.”

When it comes to compensation, even red-state lawmakers agree teachers have a legitimate beef. Educators in Arizona, Oklahoma and West Virginia have already won pay increases in Republican-led states with the support of GOP governors.

Teacher pay declined in real terms by 2 percent between 1992 and 2014, while per-pupil funding adjusted for inflation has decreased in 29 states since the Great Recession in 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Still, there was nothing to compare to this year’s wildfire of teacher walkouts during the Obama administration.

“Some of their concerns are well-taken,” Mr. Eden said. “But it’s playing out according to a #resistance script. What we’re seeing is protest-politics creeping down to the K-12 level.”

Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said: “There’s this sense of protest in the air.”

“There’s just been a lot of this kind of activity,” Mr. Hess said. “One of the interesting things about the strikes is the degree to which they appear to be bottom-up. The unions have in many cases been holding onto the tail of the horse.”

He said the teachers’ unions were dissatisfied with some of the Obama administration’s reforms on instructor evaluations and accountability, but union officials had more to lose by challenging the Democratic president and his education secretaries.

“For a lot of folks on the left, in some ways Trump’s election, they interpreted it as a sense of, ‘Wow, things are broken, we have nothing to lose,’” said Mr. Hess.

Students picked up the protest mantle after the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, headlining the massive March 14 National School Walkout and the March for Our Lives later that month.

The latest National School Walkout, pegged to the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, may have difficulty gaining traction in states trying to catch up with days lost to the teacher walkouts, but that’s not the only problem.

Columbine High School has declined to participate in the walkout. Instead, the school plans to honor the memory of the 13 people killed in 1999 as students and staff have done in years past, by volunteering at community organizations in and around Littleton, Colorado.

Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent Jason E. Glass said in a letter to the community that he hoped that the community would “continue that tradition.”

“While the folks in Florida encouraged a demonstration of unified, national support through student walkouts, I request our schools and students consider honoring the memory of Columbine by following the lead of the Columbine community, which believes firmly in the motto, ‘A Time to Remember, a Time to Hope,’” Mr. Glass said.

Stoneman Douglas senior David Hogg moved Monday to whip up support for the event by tweeting Monday that “we are still walking out,” adding that organizers have “been working incredibly hard on this.”

More than 2,200 events are planned for Friday’s walkout, according to the website run by the resistance group Indivisible, but instead of holding 13-minute memorials or rallies outside school — a minute for each victim — organizers are encouraging students to leave for the entire day.

“If lawmakers won’t commit to common sense measures to make schools safer, students won’t stand idly by,” said the website.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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