Oklahoma teachers walked off the job on April 3 to demand teacher and support-staff raises and better funding for their schools.
Education funding in the state has dropped by 28 percent over the past decade, according to the state union. Going into the walkout, Oklahoma teachers earned the second-lowest salary in the country — an average of $45,000 a year — and had not had a raise in a decade. Many Oklahoma educators have been forced to take second jobs to make ends meet; some have sold their blood plasma for extra money.
The previous week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill to give a pay increase of $6,100 to teachers and $1,250 to support staff and added another $50 million for school needs. But the teachers said additional spending was needed to improve deteriorating school facilities and replace outdated supplies.
The Oklahoma Education Association had demanded an additional $200 million in public school funding and a raise of $10,000 for teachers and $5,000 for support staff.
Republicans in the state Senate refused to budge, and teachers returned to their classrooms on April 16 vowing to continue the fight for more school funding and higher pay.
“We have created a movement, and there’s no stopping us now,” said Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest. “This fight is not over just because the school bell rings once more and our members walk back into schools.”
The decision to end the walkout was met with some disappointment among the teachers, and an Oklahoma Education Association poll of its members found 30 percent favored continuing the action. But even as the state’s educators resumed work, hundreds of teachers protested at the state capital on April 17 in the first of a planned series of demonstrations pressing lawmakers for more school funding.
“We’re just hoping that by all of us showing up they know we’re not giving up,” said Jana Young, a teacher’s assistant.
CNN, April 13
The Oklahoman, April 17