Teachers throughout the country have been making their voices heard and getting state governments to listen to their demands. It looks like some members of Congress are starting to pay attention too.
On Tuesday, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate made a bold promise: They will raise taxes on the rich to give teachers a raise. They just need voters to put them in control of Congress in November.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the new plan, which would give $50 billion to states and school districts over 10 years to pay for teacher raises and recruitment efforts. It would also create a new $50 billion fund for school infrastructure and resources, like new desks and books.
Democrats also promised to provide more support to low-income schools to ensure students there have access to computer science, music, and civics classes, and vowed to fully fund special education and protect teachers unions.
The plan has few details, but it’s now one of the biggest, most expensive planks in the Democratic Party’s economic agenda, called A Better Deal, which they released last summer. The education plan reflects the growing political clout of public school teachers, who have been striking en masse in states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and North Carolina, successfully forcing state lawmakers to pay them more and provide more funding for public education.
“They are marching in red states; they are marching in blue states,” Schumer said during the press conference on Capitol Hill. “Teachers of America, Democrats hear you loud and clear.”
Democrats say they have an obvious plan to pay for the $100 billion in new funding for teachers and schools: They want to reverse some of the GOP’s tax cuts for the richest Americans.
“Paying for this is simple: revisit the Trump tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Instead of allowing millionaires, billionaires, and massive corporations to keep their tax breaks and special-interest loopholes, Democrats would invest in teachers and students,” the plan states.
Schumer and Pelosi didn’t specify which cuts they would try to reverse from the GOP tax bill, but there’s more than enough to pay for the plan. The $1.5 trillion tax cut passage Republicans passed in December overwhelmingly benefits the top 1 percent of American taxpayers, who are getting about 83 percent of all the benefits from the tax breaks, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center. That’s because the bill lowered the top income tax rate and the corporate tax rate, and let more inheritances go untaxed, among other things.
Democrats have been watching teachers go on strike in state after state
Democratic leaders in Washington, DC, unveiled their latest agenda proposal after watching teachers walk out of class month after month, in state after state. It started in February with teachers in West Virginia, who shut down every school in the state and refused to go back to class for nine days until lawmakers gave them a 5 percent pay raise. Similar walkouts followed in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona — states with some of the lowest-paid teachers in the country.
On May 16, tens of thousands of teachers in North Carolina walked out of class to rally at the state capitol, urging lawmakers to freeze corporate tax cuts so the state can restore education spending and give teachers a larger pay raise. State legislators haven’t agreed to do so.
The strikes and rallies have captured national attention. Members of Congress have been watching too.
Pelosi and Schumer were flanked at Tuesday’s press conference by leaders of the two largest teachers unions in the country, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. That said, it’s worth noting that the rallies and walkouts have been largely grassroots efforts organized by teachers on social media, rather than top-down labor actions led by unions.
Teachers are protesting decades of school funding cuts in states where Republican lawmakers have cut business and income taxes so much that they ended up having to cut spending on education. At least 12 states have cut general or formula funding — the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student over the past decade, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Seven of those states — Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma — have cut income tax rates instead of restoring education funding.
Tuesday’s announcement signal Democrats’ desire to pour more federal money into US public schools, which currently rely heavily on state and local tax revenues.
In the states that have experienced teacher unrest, educators have called on lawmakers to boost funding for public education with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy. While the strikes, for the most part, have proven effective in forcing Republican lawmakers in those states to restore some of that funding, these legislatures have fiercely resisted efforts to hike taxes. And when they have given in, they’ve raised taxes and fees that would disproportionately hurt workers who are struggling to make ends meet.
Democrats in Congress are now promising to give teachers what they’ve been calling for — more funding for education, paid for entirely by the rich.