Oklahoma teachers plan to walk out on Monday. Teachers in the state haven’t had a raise in a decade and have the lowest salary in the nation according to some estimates. Now, they want to send a message to lawmakers next week by stopping work and closing schools.
At least 172 Oklahoma school districts have prepared to close for at least one day next week, according to a recent survey of 264 school districts. Nearly 100 school districts said the plan was to remain open during the strike and 48 school districts were prepared to close indefinitely. Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, told Education Week that she isn’t sure whether the walkout will continue past Monday.
To fund a raise for teachers, state senators will consider a measure that would be the “first major tax increase in a quarter of a century,” according to Reuters. The measure, which has already passed the House, would raise nearly $450 million for increased pay for teachers and school staff and would improve salaries by $6,000 on average. Oklahoma teachers say it’s not enough, however, and they still plan to strike next week. The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) has been pushing for a $10,000 raise for teachers and $5,000 raise for education support professionals over three years. Teachers would receive a $5,000 raise in the first year.
Oklahoma teachers are fighting for more than raises for teachers. They also want $200 million over three years to restore public funding in education and a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees as well as new revenue for health care, mental health, and public safety.
“Our ask is still our ask,” OEA wrote on Facebook on Monday. “The House is considering a number of bills tonight that could be a step in the right direction. We’re still asking for a complete package, including funding for years 2 and 3.”
Teachers and parents were so upset with the state of education in Oklahoma that Alberto Morejon, who teaches eighth grade social studies at Stillwater Junior High School, set up a Facebook page for teachers and parents to discuss their concerns.
“[Lawmakers] have cut hundreds of millions of dollars toward education funding so we can’t buy any textbooks,” Morejon said. “We have to have 31, 32, 33 kids in a class because we can’t hire as many teachers as we need.”
Interest in the Facebook page, called Oklahoma Teacher Walkout – The Is Now!, quickly attracted members over the past month, Morejon told ThinkProgress in an interview last week.
“I made it on a Wednesday and on Thursday, I started adding people. This is almost three weeks ago. I started adding people around 6 p.m. on a Thursday night and by midnight, it had 1,000 people. When I woke up the next morning, it had 21,000 and right now it has 70,000 people.”
Morejon keeps the Facebook page running by providing people with updates on the work stoppage. When ThinkProgress spoke to Morejon last week, he said teachers were working on organizing resources for students and parents and figuring out how to shuttle people from local parking lots to the capitol. Morejon said he calls teacher union leaders and union leaders call him to work on organizing walkouts and distributing information. This week, teachers are working on arranging carpools for the walkouts, making signs, and preparing students for the walkout by helping them stay current with their assignments, according to NewsOK.
Marissa McGinley, a fourth-grade teacher at Coronado Heights Elementary School in Putnam City Schools, told the outlet that she signed her class up for a program they can access online to keep up with math and reading lessons.
School districts are doing everything they can to prepare in advance of a walkout. Last week, Cache Independent School District Superintendent Chad Hance sent a letter to prepare parents for the walkout. The school district will stretch days out to account for lack of instruction during the walkout. This week, the school day will begin at 8 a.m. and car riders will leave school at 3:50 p.m. The school district also decided to cut lunch periods by five minutes. The Miami Public Schools Board met earlier this month to vote unanimously to authorize the superintendent to close all of the schools for up to 10 days as long as the days are made up.
Oklahoma City Public School District sent a note to parents as well supporting the walkout. The district said that although buildings will be closed, the district will use school buses to provide box lunches to students. The district said it is also working with local faith-based groups to connect families with childcare and other resources during the walkout, according to KFOR.
“We support our teachers in this because our state has cut the funding we need to serve our children by over 28% in the last decade, far more than any other state in the nation. Our students deserve better,” the district wrote in its note.