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Utah teacher walk-out
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Live Mic: Despite House speaker’s plea, teachers walk out

Utah educators on Feb. 28, 2020, demonstrated to ask for an increase in weighted pupil funds from 4% to 6% for school districts. Photo credit: KSLTV 5

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah teachers walked out of schools Friday and marched from the federal building in downtown Salt Lake City for a rally at the state Capitol.

Because so many teachers walked out, the city district implemented a half-day schedule.

Teachers and supporters — numbering about 1,000 — rallied at the Capitol to push lawmakers for a 6 percent increase to the value of the weighted-pupil unit, which is a measure of public school funding in Utah.

House speaker says don’t walk out

House Speaker Brad Wilson joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to plead with teachers to not walk out.

“There are better ways to express your thoughts on education funding than not teaching kids,” Wilson said Thursday.

“I’m sad kids are going to be shortchanged tomorrow and not be taught, and we could have easily met those educators after school tomorrow,” he said.

Utah Education Association (UEA) President Heidi Matthews also joined Lee on-air Thursday to discuss the walkout.

As far as teaching the full day and meeting with legislators after school, as Wilson suggested, Matthews said:

“This is a day [Friday] that’s been in the works for quite some time.”

The House speaker pointed out that no teacher has reached out to him about their concerns.

“We will be up here after school is done every day if people want to come up and chat about education funding and priorities,” Wilson said.

“Have you had talks with the UEA or the Salt Lake Education Association?” Lee asked Wilson

“Our leadership team and our committee chairs are meeting with education stakeholders daily.

“I have a meeting in less than an hour with the state Office of Education. It’s something that we take very seriously. We’ve increased funding in public education a billion dollars in just a short period of time up here,” he said.

An educator’s view

Brenda Kraack, a math teacher at East High School in Salt Lake City, joined Lee during the walkout to give her perspective.

As far as conducting the walkout in the middle of the school day and disrupting students’ education and their parents’ schedules, she said:

“We’ve tried to meet them after school hours. We’ve tried to email our legislators…and it hasn’t seemed to get their attention.”

“The disruption to the parents’ schedules, the time not spent in the classroom, that’s worth it?” Lee asked.

“It’s absolutely worth it,” she said.

“Why is that?” Lee asked.

“If the teachers aren’t going to do it [fight for students], then who is?”

Kraack said she has spent all 24 years of her teaching career in Utah. She added that every year teachers ask lawmakers to put education first, but every year, the state is last in funding or hovering near the bottom.

“When you disrupt parents’ lives. . . then now we’re getting some attention,” said Kraack.

How important is teacher pay?

House Speaker Wilson said the Legislature has treated public education and teachers more than fairly.

“Almost half of our state’s revenue is going into public education. We’re doing the best we can, but we have other needs as well.

“We’ve actually funded teacher salaries over the last decade significantly higher than we’ve funded state employees. And teachers have been given much bigger raises than state employees have.

“We would love to be giving everyone big raises. But we have taxpayers who are sending us their hard-earned money, and we try to make the best decisions we can with it,” Wilson said.

How does teacher compensation factor into the walkout today? Lee asked Kraack, the East High math teacher.

“It has zero to do with our efforts for today. This is a walk for students. This has nothing to do with teacher salaries or teacher compensation.

“This is all about funding for our students, for programs for our students, for supplies… everything but teacher salaries… and I think that says a lot about our profession,” she said.