West Virginia teachers say strike launched a movement: 'We lit a fire'

Photo: WDTV
Photo: WDTV
Published: Apr. 2, 2018 at 6:42 PM EDT
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Angry teachers across the country are rising up and speaking out, protesting over wages, benefits, and school funding.

"It sounds like we lit a fire," said Barbara Cale, a music teacher in Harrison County.

Cale and her colleagues stood on the picket lines last month, demanding a pay raise and a fix to rising health insurance costs. They were fighting for state employees, but they didn't imagine their efforts would have a domino effect across the country.

"Usually, it seems like West Virginia is kind of on the behind end of a lot of educational trends, but to be on the forefront of one has been huge for the state and for the reputation of West Virginians, in general," Cale said.

Schools in Kentucky and Oklahoma were closed Monday, as thousands of teachers went on strike to demand an increase in their wages and school funding.

Educators in Arizona, meanwhile, are watching closely. They've made it known that they're prepared to strike if their demands for a 20 percent salary increase are not met.

The tactics in these states mirror those used in West Virginia. Grassroots groups have been instrumental in organizing walkouts and public events, and educators have stressed the need to maintain a united front.

"We put it on the map," said Matt McCullough, a special education teacher at Simpson Elementary School in Bridgeport. "I think that states are following the model that we had and I feel like we did a good job in showing how it can be done."

McCullough believes this is a watershed moment for educators, as thousands of school service personnel mobilize across the country.

"For years now, education had been overlooked," said McCullough. "As far as how public school employees are paid, whether it be teachers, service personnel, cooks, custodians."

"And I think it's just reached a crisis level," he continued. "Where people are forced to pay attention."