The Wave of Teacher Activism Has Reached Hawaii
Hawaii teachers have joined the Red for Ed movement: On Tuesday, dozens of teachers across the state staged a "walk-in" protest to spread awareness about what they see as a lack of funding for public schools.
Specifically, they're urging support for a ballot measure that would put in place a property tax to fund schools. The measure, which voters will consider in November, would tax investment real estate worth more than $1 million. The state's counties have urged the state Supreme Court to invalidate the ballot question, arguing that it misleads voters by not mentioning the word tax.
But the state teachers' union has said the money that would be raised from the measure is critical for schools. While Hawaii's average teacher salary is $56,651, according to the National Education Association, the union contends that when adjusted for cost-of-living, Aloha State teachers are the lowest paid in the nation. The union has also said the state is among the lowest in per-pupil spending.
During the walk-ins, teachers rallied outside of their schools, waving signs, in an attempt to drum up community support. Then, they walked in to their schools together as a show of solidarity. According to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, one teacher said this is a "dry run" for an official walk-in on Oct. 23 "when we're going to do this en masse."
Hawaii is the latest state to experience widespread teacher activism. Walk-ins were a popular form of protest in Oklahoma and Arizona before the teachers there decided to walk out of their classrooms for an extended work stoppage.
Hawaii has long had difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers. According to the state teachers' union, there are more than 1,000 teaching positions either vacant or filled with unqualified teachers who are emergency hires. The situation is especially bad in rural areas of the state.
My colleague Daarel Burnette II reported recently that Democrats across the country are pushing for tax increases that would generate money for public schools and teachers. They're "gambling that voters are so alarmed at the financial disrepair of their local school systems that they're willing to tax states' corporations and wealthiest citizens to bail them out," Burnette wrote.
It helps that teachers have recently become much more sympathetic figures. I recently wrote about the shift in public opinion—teachers have seemingly gone from being bad actors ruining schools to the victims of an unfair system. The public is much more concerned now than previously about their low salaries and challenging working conditions.
But experts question whether voters' support for teachers will extend into a willingness to raise taxes, in Hawaii and elsewhere.
"I'm wondering if it's going to get beyond that 'poor dear' sympathy stage to, 'Yeah, I'm willing to give my money to teachers because it's in the public interest,' " said David Labaree, a professor emeritus at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. "That's a much harder case to make."
Image of Hilo, Hawaii. —Caleb Jones/AP