MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We'd like to turn now to the teacher strikes that have taken place in a number of states. Teachers will remain on walkout in Oklahoma tomorrow morning despite votes by state lawmakers to raise their pay and education funding. In recent weeks, teachers have also shut down school districts in West Virginia and Kentucky. And teachers in Arizona are also talking about a walkout.
Now obviously, circumstances vary state-by-state, but we wondered if there's a bigger picture across the country that we might consider, so we've called Randi Weingarten. She's president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million educators across the country. She's with us now via Skype. Randi Weingarten, thanks so much for talking to us.
RANDI WEINGARTEN: And thank you for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: So let's start in Oklahoma, and then we'll broaden it out if we can. So the State Senate there passed a $44 million revenue-and-tax package on Friday to give more funding to public schools in the state. And the Republican governor, Mary Fallin, says that she will support this, but the teachers are staying out. So what more do the teachers want?
WEINGARTEN: The teachers are trying to create enough funding so kids have a decent school year next year. What they saw last week or two weeks ago was that, after the pay raise was passed, there was a bait and switch and that some of the funding was taken out. And so what the teachers did not want was for teachers' salaries to be pit against student conditions. And so that's why teachers said we need you to make up the funding you just pulled out, and we need funding for our schools, which are in deplorable shape, whether it's the conditions of the schools, whether it's the fact that their textbooks are put together by duct tape, whether it's that class sizes are soaring and there's not enough desks in schools for classes. And I can go on and on.
MARTIN: So let's broaden it out. The states where teachers have walked out to this point are, in fact, states where teachers are some of the lowest paid in the country. But I think a number of people are wondering, you know, why now? What is it that you think is precipitating these actions now?
WEINGARTEN: Since the last recession, people who are very rich, all of their income popped back. But for many others, including public services, things are still really deplorable. And you see that in West Virginia. You see that in Oklahoma. You see that in Arizona. You see that in Kentucky. Twenty-nine states still spend less today on public K12 education than they did in the recession. And people are actually making less today than they did in West Virginia in 2012 because of the huge increases in health insurance costs. That's No. 1. No. 2, there's a sense that if we stand up now, something will change.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, do you have any concern about a backlash?
WEINGARTEN: Of course there is. And frankly, our folks, every single day, we are on the phone with our members and our leaders about, you know, how do we land this plane? How do we make sure we get back into school? No one wants to be out. Teachers want to teach. I am the daughter of a teacher who struck for six weeks. No one wants it. People want to be back to school. We're talking to our folks tonight about this and about what to do. But the real problem is we need the legislature to listen. And we need to elect people that actually will listen to the needs of children and communities.
MARTIN: That's Randi Weingarten. She's president of the American Federation of Teachers. She was kind of to join us via Skype. Randi Weingarten, thanks so much for talking with us.
WEINGARTEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.