Here's why Oklahoma teachers walked out today

Apr 03, 2018, 02:48
Here's why Oklahoma teachers walked out today

The strike by some of the lowest-paid educators in the nation came the same day that Kentucky teachers dressed in red T-shirts flooded that state's capital demanding pension security, following a similar successful wage-strike about a month ago by teachers in West Virginia.

The measure increases taxes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production to provide teachers with raises of about $6,100, or 15 to 18 percent.

Oklahoma ranks 47th among states and the District of Columbia in public school revenue per student, almost $3,000 below the national average, while its average teacher salary of $45,276 ranked 49th before the latest raises, according to the most recent statistics from the National Education Association.

The Tulsa English teacher is one of the leaders of a grassroots organizing group, Oklahoma Teachers United, that they say represents thousands of public school teachers around the state.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest union for educators, said the teachers are "walking out because our students deserve more", Reuters reported.

Last week, the state's Republican-controlled legislature passed a revenue package that included pay raises for teachers.

Monday's scheduled strikes follow a growing trend of teacher walkouts across the country.

When the OEA issued a statement calling it was a step in the right direction but saying "Our ask is still our ask", some in the public began wondering how much is enough.

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Norman High School teacher Sean Thompson says it's this kind of political maneuvering that's driving him to rally at the Capitol today.

Waynelle Mason, 63, was among the state workers who showed up to support teachers -and rally for raises for state employees. Teachers say their classrooms are in need of new technology and new furniture.

"Fifty million dollars will buy less than one textbook per student, so it's not a real way to fund education", Priest said.

"We're good to go", she said.

The teachers, a lot of them on their first day of spring break, were joined in a show of solidarity by members of other public employee unions, including those representing firefighters, police, plumber and pipe fitter.

Although Norman public schools have only canceled school on Monday, CASP and other Norman communities have arranged childcare and meal options for the entire week, said Leslie Christopher, the marketing coordinator for the Cleveland County YMCA.

Kentucky teachers are decrying what they call "bait-and-switch" changes to their pensions, after state lawmakers tucked those reforms into another bill about sewage and passed that bill last week.

Some teachers said their salaries were so low that they needed second jobs - such as working as restaurant waiters or mowing lawns - to make ends meet.

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'We've all heard stories from students, parents, and teachers affected by eleven years of cuts to our classrooms, ' Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said in a Facebook video message on Sunday.

Another said: "We are not trusted to get on and do our job".

Thousands of Arizona teachers also rallied in front of the state Capitol in Phoenix in March.

When the Oklahoma senate voted last week to increase teacher pay, thousands of Arizona teachers gathered in Phoenix at the capitol.

Craig McVay, superintendent of El Reno Public Schools, said he is leaving it up to teachers to decide whether they want to walk out. Under the bill, new teachers would have to a less generous pension plan and would have to work longer before being eligible for retirement benefits. "I would say it's the dream coming true, except we never had this dream because it would have been too insane to even say". Every day you're going home and you're just feeling like, I failed.

The education budget has been cut in recent years.

"We don't take care of our kids in any way, shape or form" in Oklahoma, Mason said.

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