A teachers' strike that started in West Virginia has spread to Oklahoma and might even influence others in the state of Arizona. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t seem to be catching the media’s attention as it should.
In Oklahoma, the Republican-led legislature passed a bill raising taxes on the gas and oil industry as well as on cigarettes to provide public schools with more funding. The move followed the Oklahoma Education Association’s announcement that teachers were going to walk out on April 2 if pay for teachers and school staff was not raised. On Thursday, Gov. Mary Fallin rushed to sign the bill into law.
But while this may have been a victory, as the law will offer an average of $6,000 pay increase for all teachers, many educators are still planning on going on strike.
They say they want to walk out of classrooms across the state to pressure legislators to provide even more funding to public schools.
The OEA had told legislators that teachers were seeking a $10,000 pay raise over three years, a $5,000 raise for other support professionals over the same period of time, an adjustment to retirees’ pensions, and full restoration of funding to what they call essential, or core education, services.
While the bill did offer a considerable raise to educators, the portion about restoring funding for services is still lacking.
In a Facebook post, Ali Ryder, a teacher at Collinsville Public Schools, urged other teachers to walk out.
She explained that her support for the strike stems from her disappointment at the legislature.
Explaining that teachers like herself have been “begging” for more funding for the past 10 years, she said that legislators only passed this bill to make teachers look bad.
But despite the increased school budget, she added, educational facilities are still struggling.
“Sure, this bill gives us a raise. But you know what it doesn’t do,” Ryder wrote. “It doesn’t get us enough copy paper so we aren’t begging parents for some by November. It doesn’t lower our class sizes. It doesn’t help us afford more teachers or aides. It doesn’t get us all the updated curriculum we need. It doesn’t convince new teachers to stay in Oklahoma when they can STILL make $10k-$20k more across the borders.”
At 47th, Oklahoma ranks poorly in public school revenue per student, which is $3,000 per year. With the teacher’s salary at $45,276, the state ranks 49th. Without proper funding to provide for materials and knowing that so many good teachers flee Oklahoma in order to make more in neighboring states, it’s clear that it will take a lot more than just a $6,000 raise to make teachers like Ryder feel less frustrated.
Hopefully, educators' passionate plea for full funding is not going to just be pushed under the rug, especially now that Arizona is also joining the fight, with teachers demanding a 20 percent teacher pay hike.
In Kentucky, teachers are also striking in order to fight changes to their pension plans.
If this movement catches on, expect to see teachers across several other states walk out to demand better work conditions. Red states are especially vulnerable as tax cuts implemented by Republicans often translate into less money to public education — and of course, fewer happy teachers.