Thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky walked off the job Monday morning, shutting down school districts as they protested cuts in pay, benefits and school funding in a movement that has spread rapidly since igniting in West Virginia earlier this year.
In Oklahoma City, protesting teachers ringed the Capitol, chanting, “No funding, no future!” Katrina Ruff, a local teacher, carried a sign that read, “Thanks to West Virginia.”
“They gave us the guts to stand up for ourselves,” she said.
The walkouts and rallies in Republican-dominated states, mainly organized by ordinary teachers on Facebook, have caught lawmakers and sometimes the teachers’ own labor unions flat-footed. And they are occurring in states and districts with important midterm races in November, suggesting that thousands of teachers, with their pent-up rage over years of pay freezes and budget cuts, are set to become a powerful political force this fall.
The next red state to join the protest movement could be Arizona, where there is an open Senate seat and where thousands of teachers gathered in Phoenix last week to demand a 20 percent pay raise and more funding for schools.
The growing fervor suggests that labor activism has taken on a new, grass-roots form.
“Our unions have been weakened so much that a lot of teachers don’t have faith” in them, said Noah Karvelis, an elementary school music teacher in Tolleson, Ariz., outside Phoenix, and leader of the movement calling itself #RedforEd, after the red T-shirts protesting teachers are wearing across the country.