In recent months teachers in five states have struck for better pay or benefits. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the five states—Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia—spend less than the national average on each pupil enrolled in public schools. They pay their teachers substantially less than the nationwide average salary, which in the 2015-2016 school year was $58,064. More importantly, teachers in all five states saw the purchasing power of their salaries shrink over the first six years of the economic recovery. In this they were hardly alone. Public school teachers in 39 states saw their real wages fall between 2009 and 2015. Teachers in Arizona, Oklahoma, and West Virginia suffered wage losses of 9 percent or more.
The plight of teachers is traceable to a couple of developments. The electoral success of conservatives has shifted political control in many statehouses to officeholders who are determined to hold down spending, including on the public schools. The economic recovery may have lifted state and local revenues in the great majority of states, but frugal lawmakers in many of them have kept public spending in check, sharply cutting state aid to local schools in the early years of the economic recovery….