Oklahoma teachers have entered the ninth day of their walk-out, vowing to keep schools closed until their budgetary demands have been met by legislators on Capitol Hill. The teacher’s union in the state, which demanded a $10,000 dollar raise for teachers over three years, comparable raises to support staff, and $200 million in education funding to restore the funding that has been cut over the last decade, has agreed to hold firm until the legislators meet their demands. Legislators, in response, passed a $6,100 dollar raise and dozens of millions in funding.
While some Republicans seem sympathetic to the cause but unsure if there’s much more funding to be found for educators in the state, others have been outright dismissive of the cause. One state senator, Rob Standridge, said that funding is not the issue when it comes to the teacher walkouts. “Teacher attitude and dialogue is the problem,” he added. Another Senator said that teachers should just find another job if they don’t like the pay.
This last statement already reflects the reality in the state: hundreds of teachers have left Oklahoma in search of better paying teaching jobs just across state lines, in places like Texas, where teachers are paid, on average, $15,000 more a year. Thousands of teachers are “emergency certified” in the state, meaning they were hired before they have education training as a result of staffing shortages. Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of The Year moved to Texas after failing to secure a 5,000 dollar raise for teachers.
Understandably, parents are starting to get impatient. Although 72 percent of Oklahomans support the walk-out, many parents are forced to find childcare for the ninth day in a row. Parents who work full-time or rely on reduced lunches are starting to wonder when legislators and educators will come to a deal. Teachers have taken to opening cafeterias and providing lunch to kids who may be at-risk.
Laborers across other sectors have shown their support for the lengthening walk-out. Construction on one of the catalysts for the strike, a $200 million dollar upgrade to Capitol Hill, has halted as workers refused to cross the picket line. Religious leaders have been organizing vigils to support the teachers.
Students, too, have rallied in support the teacher walk-out. At a student-led rally on the third day of the strike on Capitol Hill in Oklahoma, thousands of high school students called on legislators to give the funding educators are demanding. Students spoke for about an hour about their support and appreciation for their teachers and the need for more funding in the district.
But the path forward is starting to become, for a lack of better word, precarious. The Oklahoma Education Association is antsy to get their teachers back to work. Unlike the educators, they are more willing to encourage a back-to-work mindset and argue that teachers are almost at the full extent of their demands. Many teachers, however, disagree.
The walk-out, in a deeply red state, echoes similar sentiments of dissatisfaction with education funding and teacher pay across the country. In Arizona, as the threat of a teacher walk-out in response to years of tax cuts and lack of raises looms, the governor refuses to meet with teachers. The same is true in Kentucky, where the governor recently passed a pension bill that makes educators pensions more like a 401k. Teachers held a sickout upon the bill’s passing, and will be gathering on Capitol Hill in that state on Friday to protest the bill.