December 4, 2022

Betsy DeVos just launched a hypocritical attack on striking Oklahoma teachers

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While claiming she is sympathetic to underpaid public school teachers in Oklahoma who are on strike, America’s tone-deaf Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos put them down for keeping schools closed while she was in Dallas last Thursday to tour a middle school and meet with leaders of an anti-violence initiative. 


“I hope adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place,” DeVos told the Dallas Morning News, “and serve the students that are there to be served.”

The billionaire charter school advocate from Michigan, who has worked with Trump to create a federal education budget that significantly cuts funding for public schools, acts as if the Oklahoma teachers – who have not had a pay raise since 2006, while overall funding in the state for schools has decreased about 30 percent – can separate their life from the work they do, which is impossible.

The Republican-dominated government of Oklahoma, where teacher pay ranks 49th out of 50 states (according to the National Educational Association), for teachers last month under threat of a strike did raise salaries by $6,100 per year, and increased pay for support staff by $1,250, and put up an additional $50 million for investment in schools.

However, teachers said the extra money was not enough after years of underinvestment has resulted in crumbling school buildings, tattered textbooks, and forced about 20 percent of all Oklahoma school districts to move to a four-day school week. 

Teachers, who marched on the state capital last week by the thousands, want Oklahoma to increase funding by $200 million and to actually put the pay raise in their checks before they call an end to the strike.

While the teacher’s protests started over their compensation, it is now about the quality of education, the state of the crumbling school infrastructure, and the overall lack of resources for students. 

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So when DeVos blames teachers for striking over pay, she misunderstands the underlying cause of the job action, as does Oklahoma’s right-wing Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who compared the strikers to teenagers who want a better car.

DeVos and the governor are both “fallin” to see that what is happening in Oklahoma is part of a national crisis as teachers and educators are at a breaking point after years of watching the rich get richer while public schools are treated like a step-child that can get by with less food, hand me down clothes and a blanket to sleep on the back porch. 

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Happily, teachers are now standing up for themselves and more importantly for their students, which is what the politicians like DeVos, and her overlord President Trump, just don’t get.

The teacher revolt began in West Virginia, where a nine-day strike led to a five percent raise for the educators.

This month teachers in Kentucky also went on strike, briefly protesting for pension reforms.

Today Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin vetoed a new state budget that would help resolve issues the teachers have raised and warned the teachers it is illegal for them to strike.

The President of the Jefferson County Teachers Association struck back in a statement: “The Governor’s veto of a budget that includes hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue dedicated to public education is nothing short of reprehensible because it will harm every public school student in our Commonwealth,”

And in Arizona, where the right-wing Republicans have sharply cut school funding in recent years, there is also a threat of a strike if the lawmakers don’t raise teacher salaries and restore funding to keep the schools open and operating in the best interest of students.

During the West Virginia strike, DeVos took to Twitter to say the obvious, that students are hurt when teachers strike, and she did call for teacher pay raises.

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However, DeVos seems incapable of connecting the dots – students are not just hurt by strikes which happen once in a while, but are hurt every day by poorly maintained schools, lack of proper materials, and the low morale of teachers and support personnel who can’t live on what they are making in what all around them seems like a land of plenty. 

DeVos, who lives in heavily guarded homes, and flies on her own private jets, and supports the expansion of charter schools (many faith-based) over the kind of public schools that have given all American children a leg up for generations, is never going to be the right person to help resolve this national crisis. 

Nor is Trump going to champion the hard-working teachers, and provide resources for schools, as he has shown with his severe cuts to education.

This is a crisis that needs to be solved state by state, and by voters turning out in November and beyond to elect those who have the best interests of the children and the teachers all year round, every year, and not just when they want to win elections. 

Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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