Inspired by the successes of a teacher-led strike in West Virginia, educators in Oklahoma are organizing their own walk out because of low wages.
CNBC reported in 2017 that Oklahoma teachers had the lowest annual wage in the nation, making only $42,460 a year on average. This, and the general lack of funding for education, has inspired Oklahoma teachers to band together and fight for higher wages and more funding for their schools.
Over 70,000 teachers and supporters have joined a Facebook group called “The Time is Now” where they share information, updates, and advice surrounding the movement. Users have been sharing stories about the side jobs they’ve had to make ends meet, programs that have disappeared from schools and the detreating physical condition of school property and supplies.
Page administrator Alberto Morejo reported to the group that school districts representing 70 percent of the student population in Oklahoma have confirmed that they will be participating in the teacher strike starting on April 2.
John Brown University student Katie Maurer worked with a youth group in Oklahoma City over spring break. She heard from students about how their schools are preparing for the teacher strike.
“The teachers are supposedly preparing meals to give to students on free and reduced school lunches to make sure they have something to eat while school isn’t in session and everyone is preparing for a ‘second spring break” next week.” Maurer said.
Oklahoma Education Association president Alicia Priest said, “Lawmakers have ignored pay for far too long. The state salary schedule hasn’t been adjusted for a decade. The OEA seeks a $10,000 pay raise for educators and a $5,000 raise for education support professionals.”
Along with a pay raise, the OEA is also seeking funding for giving retirees a cost-of-living expense.
On March 26, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a group of bills that would raise taxes on certain items to fund wage increases for teachers. The proposed bills would increase teacher annual salaries by an average of $6,100.
Priest said the proposal was a “step in the right direction.” But teachers are not satisfied with the proposal and plan to leave schools on April 2 if their demands are not met.
Bill Guy, organizing and communications specialist with the OEA, said that the package of bills passed was “a first step toward funding our goals, but they don’t go far enough. In addition, these bills will not go to the Oklahoma Senate, which may or may not amend them or pass this as is.”
Guy said, “We believe the pressure of the impending statewide walk out is forcing the legislature to take our issues seriously, but they are not fully there yet. Hence, the walk out is still on for April 2 and our ‘asks’ are still those in our Together We’re Stronger campaign.”
Maurer said, “It seems like an appropriate, effective form of protest, and they’re taking specific actions to make sure their actions don’t put students at a disadvantage.”