Oklahoma has long been awash with education problems, going so far as to cut the school week. Teachers are protesting for themselves and their students. Graphic by Conner Maggio

Okla. teacher walkout sorely needed

Teacher protests are another symptom of a state government that’s completely failed its duty to public education.

On March 13, the Tulsa Public Schools Board voted unanimously to support a statewide teacher walkout beginning April 2.

The walkout was originally planned to happen only if the state failed to pass a bill raising teacher salaries. But, last Wednesday, the state legislature passed its first tax hike in almost three decades to fund a pay increase for teachers who haven’t seen a raise in over ten years. The bill includes about $6,000 per educator and $50 million in education funding.

However, teachers’ union groups say that while the bill is a step in the right direction, it’s not enough. Thus, the walk out will commence as planned on Monday unless the legislature passes a new spending bill. The Oklahoma Education Association’s plan calls for a $10,000 raise per teacher, $5,000 increase in support staff salaries and $200 million in education funding.

Tulsa’s neighboring school districts, including Broken Arrow, Union, Owasso and Sapulpa, gave the green light as well. Tulsa county’s six largest school districts all voted to approve the walkout, meaning about 103,000 students will be out of school starting April 2.

March 12 marked the first day that teachers went to work under a “work the contract” policy, meaning they only work their contract-mandated seven hours and 50 minutes per day. This means after 3 p.m. in Tulsa, the schools are empty. This also means no after-hours tutoring or student help of any kind. Teachers here reported that they were incredibly surprised by the public support for their actions.

I’m not.

This state has at long last found the straw that broke the education camel’s back. Oklahoma routinely ranks in the bottom four states (or dead last) in the nation for teacher pay. For the 2017-2018 school year, the state hired over 400 emergency-certified teachers. 91 out of 512 districts have moved to four-day school weeks. A representative for the Oklahoma Education Association estimates that Oklahoma loses about 200 teachers every month, who either leave the profession entirely or move states. The 2016 Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year even left for Texas.

Current high school seniors have seen cuts in education funding each year for the last decade of their educational careers. And what did the state legislature, the people we’ve supposedly elected to lead us, do? Not a damn thing. Oklahoma treats its teachers so terribly that it loses them every year to neighboring states like Kansas. Kansas! Teachers actually get paid more in Kansas than they do here.

The teacher walkout, modeled after similar strikes in West Virginia, commences April 2 and continues indefinitely until the legislature decides it cares. April in Oklahoma’s public schools is state testing month, a strategic time in which it would be quite intelligent to have teachers actually in the schools.

Sand Springs students staged a walkout in the first week of March to show support for their teachers. It lasted 22 minutes to symbolize the proposed $22 million in cuts to the educational budget for the state’s fiscal year. On March 15, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum spoke to a large crowd who turned out to rally for teachers. On deadline day (April 2), there are plans for rallies at the state capitol and other major metropolitan areas in Oklahoma in support of public education. This is not an issue that will simply go away until the next budget cycle. Lawmakers have finally failed Oklahomans one too many times.

The overwhelming public support for teachers makes it clear: enough is enough. Hopefully we will see a new bill pass this coming week that more robustly funds Oklahoma’s school system and its tireless employees. But I’m cautiously optimistic. After all, I’ve lived in this educational cesspool for 22 years.

Post Author: Alex Garoffolo