There were 20 major work stoppages in 2018, the highest since 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The educational and health services sector combined accounted for 90 percent of all idled workers. Teacher walkouts accounted for the largest worker stoppages last year, as the BLS explains:

In 2018, the largest work stoppage by days idle was between the Arizona State Legislature and Arizona Education Association and involved 81,000 teachers and staff totaling 486,000 days of idleness. The second largest stoppage in 2018 involved the Oklahoma State Legislature and the Oklahoma Education Association accounting for 405,000 days idle. Statewide major work stoppages in educational services also occurred in West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, and North Carolina.

On Tuesday West Virginia Teachers called for a statewide strike, in response to an education reform bill that would allow up to seven public charter schools to open. Public charter schools are legal in 43 states, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico. West Virginia is one of the only states without public or private-school parental choice.

Teachers are the most important school factor contributing to student learning—having two to three times the effect of school leadership, services, or facilities. So, when teachers are MIA, students suffer.

Studies by university researchers from Columbia, Duke, and Harvard, for example, have all found that teacher absences hurt student achievement, especially the achievement of low-income students. And it doesn’t take long for the negative impacts of absent teachers to kick in, as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s David Griffith explains:

…a ten-day increase in teacher absenteeism is associated with the loss of about six to ten days of learning in English language arts and about fifteen to twenty-five days of learning in math. In other words, kids learn almost nothing—and possibly less than nothing—when their teacher of record isn’t there.

The cost of hiring substitutes is an estimated $4 billion annually, roughly 1 percent of total K-12 spending, but the cost to student learning is almost incalculable.

We can’t afford to hold student learning hostage to teacher walk-outs and strikes.

As soon as a possible teacher walk-out or strike was announced, all students who would be affected by should be immediately eligible for what I would call Strike Back Education Savings Accounts. Likewise, students attending schools with high teacher absenteeism rates should also be eligible for Student Opportunity ESAs.

Such options would preserve the continuity of student learning, and would introduce powerful incentives to avoid contract show-downs in the first place.