These Numbers Show Why 2018 Was the Year Teachers Got Mad

Low pay + shrinking budgets + tax cuts = ______

Teachers protesting school funding cuts in Oklahoma City in April.Sue Ogrocki/AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

In 2018, teachers in West VirginiaArizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oklahoma led demonstrations, walkouts, and strikes to protest the sorry state of education in their states—including low teacher pay, shrinking budgets, and overcrowded classrooms. The movement may be a sign that even in red states, slashing taxes and budgets no longer makes the grade. And it could cost Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker his job. 

Reading, writing, and recession

  • Education spending fell sharply following the recession. In 2016, 25 states provided less funding per pupil for public schools than they did before the 2008 recession.
  • By that year, 8 of the 14 states run by Democrats had restored spending per pupil to 2009 levels. Only 5 of the 22 states controlled by Republicans had done so.
  • Seven states, including Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma, currently have ballot measures that would allow tax increases to fund education.

The new math

Class warfare

  • Nearly 1 in 5 teachers have a second job.
  • The average teacher is required to work 38 hours a week—but actually works 53.
  • 94% of teachers say they spend their own money on classroom supplies—on average, more than $450 a year
  • Between 2000 and 2017, teachers’ average inflation-adjusted wages dropped $35 a week.
  • Teachers make an average of 19% less than other workers with similar backgrounds.

Falling behind

The education president

  • President Trump has suggested giving teachers “a little bit of a bonus” if they carry guns to school.
  • Trump’s proposed 2018 budget asked for the largest cuts to the Department of Education in its history
  • 4% of Americans say our schools are the best in the world.


Sources: Education spending after recession: NeYork Times; per pupil funding in 25 states: American Federation of Teachers (AFT); Democratic/Republican states: NeYork Times; 2018 ballot measures: National Conference of State Legislatures; teachers with second jobs: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES); average teacher workweek: NCES; spending on supplies: NCES; change in inflation-adjusted wages: Economic Policy Institute (EPI); teacher pay vs. comparable workers: EPI; change in inflation-adjusted teacher pay (chart): NCES; change in inflation-adjusted spending per pupil (chart): NCES; “a little bit of a bonus”: New York Times; proposed 2018 budget: AFT; “best in the world”: Pew Research Center .


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend