Teachers in Oklahoma are boycotting school and taking to the state Capitol today to demand better wages and more school funding in the wake of a successful teacher strike in West Virginia last month.
Oklahoma pays its teachers one of the three lowest average salaries in the country. For years Oklahoma has been cutting taxes, especially for the oil and gas industries, leading to a severe budget problem that has pushed lawmakers to reduce education spending by 28 percent over the last decade. Lawmakers are resistant to raising taxes on the oil and gas industry above 5%, by far the lowest state tax rate for oil and gas in the nation. “We feel our state Legislature has chosen the oil and gas industry over our kids,” stated one teacher.
The state’s education advocates are now demanding a $10,000 raise for teachers, a $5,000 raise for support staff, and an additional $200 million budgeted for education funding. Last week, state lawmakers attempted to avert the walkout by passing a weakly constructed funding bill that includes a $6,100 raise for teachers, $1,250 raise for support stuff, and an additional $50 million in education funding. But teachers say that is not good enough. The $50 million increase the state gave is not even enough to buy one textbook per student in Oklahoma. One superintendent said it would cost a million dollars alone to replace his district’s outdated math textbooks.
“Why are we walking?” asked Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association. “There are 700,000 reasons why: our students. And they deserve better…They see broken chairs in class, outdated textbooks that are duct taped together, and class sizes that have ballooned.”
Teachers aren’t the only public sector employees in Oklahoma who are threatened by the tax giveaways to massive corporations, especially the oil industry. Social programs are being stripped, state troopers are forced to ration their gas, and prisons are dangerously overcrowded. “It’s almost like the oil and gas people have more say than the people that actually voted (lawmakers) in,” said teacher Alberto Morejon.
Kentucky teachers are also leading a walkout today to protest a lack of education funding and threats to their pensions. Teachers in Arizona are also considering going on strike if their demands for a 20 percent pay raise are not met. After nine days of protesting, teachers and school staff in West Virginia received a 5% pay increase last month.
Media Resources: Huffington Post 4/2/18; CNN 4/2/18, 4/2/18