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After West Virginia, teachers in other states prep for political fight

(CNN) — The strike in West Virginia has inspired similar movements as teachers in Oklahoma are considering a walkout next month and Arizona teachers had a public show of solidarity for better wages this week.

In Kentucky, teachers and retirees are protesting a controversial pension reform bill.

Teachers are taking notes, connecting over social media and considering possible statewide action over their pay.

Here’s a look at the various teachers’ movements stirring across the states.

West Virginia

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill Tuesday that gave a 5% pay raise to state teachers and other school staff. This was seen as a major victory for the teachers’ union that could have broader repercussions.

The strike lasted nine consecutive days starting February 22 to March 6 with classes resuming Wednesday.

Demands: Teachers and educators sought higher wages and better benefits, particularly for the embattled state employee health insurance program known as the Public Employee Insurance Agency. The program had become strained and many said that costs increasingly were being passed onto public employees.

How the state ranks: West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation in terms of how much it pays its teachers, according to the National Education Association. Educators said that low pay pushes qualified teachers to leave the state.

Three states rank lower than West Virginia for teacher salaries: Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota.

Reaction: Both the state’s House of Delegates and Senate unanimously approved the bill giving teachers the pay raise. And the governor agreed to set up a task force to address the state health insurance program on March 13.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma teachers could walk off the job next month over what they say is their breaking point over pay and education funding.

A bill that teachers had hoped would give them a $5,000 raise by increasing taxes on tobacco and gas, failed in the state House earlier this month, galvanizing teachers.

Teachers are giving state legislators until April 1 to take action. If not, they are planning to walk off their jobs on April 2, which would close schools statewide.

Demands: The Oklahoma Education Association, the largest teachers’ union that represents nearly 40,000 members and school personnel, wants the following to take place during the next three years:

  • $10,000 pay raise for teachers, including $6,000 raises for the first year
  • $5,000 pay raise for full-time support professionals (school custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, food service workers, etc), including $2,500 raises for the first year
  • $200 million for public school funding
  • $213 million for state employee pay raises
  • $255.9 million in health care funding

How the state ranks: Oklahoma ranks 49th in the nation in teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association.

Reaction: State legislators are working on a proposal for a $2,000 pay increase — which is a far cry from what the union wants.

CNN affiliate KFOR reported that 76% of principals in Oklahoma City support canceling class to send a message to lawmakers. But not everyone’s supporting the demands. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a policy research group that advocates free market principles, panned the union’s proposal, saying the annual cost by the third year would be $1.4 billion.

Arizona

Arizona teachers who want better pay wore red Wednesday and used #REDforED as supporters posted pictures of themselves in red attire to show solidarity. The Arizona teacher’s movement was inspired by what happened in West Virginia.

Demands: Teachers say they are overworked and underpaid. They want better pay and are encouraging each other to organize. Education groups are planning to rally next week at the state Capitol, according to CNN affiliate KGUN.

How the state ranks: Arizona ranks 43rd in the nation in terms of how much it pays its teachers, according to the National Education Association.

Reaction: Teachers are hoping their public show of frustration will pressure state leaders. At the same time, many rank-and-file teachers are talking about the possibility of a strike.

Kentucky

Kentucky teachers are fighting a state pension reform bill, Senate Bill 1 that proposes reducing benefits to them and retirees to address the state’s pension crisis, which ranks as one of the worst.

SB 1 passed a Senate committee Wednesday and heads to the Senate floor.

Demands: Teachers held rallies and walk-ins to protest the bill on Thursday, yelling, “A pension is a promise!”

The Kentucky Education Association said about the bill: “Kentucky’s students deserve high quality teachers and support staff, and pensions that are reliable and well-funded keep current educators in the classroom and attract new employees to the profession. We are not convinced that SB1, in its current form, achieves those goals.”

How the state ranks: Kentucky ranks 26th in the nation in teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association. Rather than pay, the pension bill is the main issue.

Reaction: Kentucky leaders have said that the pension has to be fixed or risk have it fall apart.

Andy Beshear, Kentucky’s Attorney General raised concerns about the bill, including the reductions to retirees’ annual cost of living adjustments from 1.5% to 0.75% and the up to 1% annual contribution increase to the teachers retirement system’s health fund.

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