TULSA, Okla. — When she woke up one morning last week, Tiffany Bell, a teacher at Hamilton Elementary School here, had $35 in her bank account.
On take-home pay of $2,200 per month, she supports her husband, a veteran who went back to school, and their three children, all of whom qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal benefit for low-income families. The couple’s 4-year-old twins attend a Head Start preschool — another antipoverty program.
Money is so tight for Ms. Bell, 26, that she had to think twice before spending $15 on Oreos for a class project, in which her third graders removed differing amounts of icing to display the phases of the moon.
She knew it would be hard to support a family on a teacher’s salary. “But not this hard,” she said.
When West Virginia teachers mounted a statewide walkout last month, earning a modest raise, it seemed like an anomaly: a successful grass-roots labor uprising in a conservative state with weak public sector unions. But just a few weeks later, the West Virginia action looks like the potential beginning of a red-state rebellion.
In Arizona, teachers clad in red, the color of the teacher protest movement, have conducted a series of #RedforEd demonstrations demanding higher pay. In Kentucky, teachers have organized rallies to protest proposed cuts to their pensions.
And in Oklahoma, where teachers have not had a raise from the state in a decade, they have vowed to go on strike on April 2 if the Legislature does not act to increase pay and education budgets.
All three states are paragons of austerity-minded budgeting, guided by a belief that taxes should be as low as possible to encourage people to spend more and companies to move there and grow. But one result has been a cutback in education, a sector in which a large and popular work force is finding it has labor muscles to flex after all.
“We are hemorrhaging from a lack of funding,” said Larry Cagle, a Tulsa teacher and organizer of one of several Facebook groups pushing for a walkout. “If I get fired, I get fired. I will absolutely not back down.”