No Action from Legislature to Start Oklahoma Teacher Walkout

The Sooner State has long led the nation in the deepest cuts to education.

Kirk Haynes, an Owensboro Public Schools fifth- and sixth-grade gifted and talented teacher, is also a Kentucky Education Association board member who has been working in education for 14 years.

Inspired by the West Virginia strike in which teachers demanded and got a pay raise from state leaders, a wave of other states including Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona are taking similar action. More than 30,000 teachers and their supporters are expected to converge on the Oklahoma state Capitol building for the main demonstration.

And there's no end to the walkout in sight.

The teachers are asking for pay raises and more funding for schools.

I met math teachers who mow lawns in Inola and heard tales of professors who sell blood in Broken Arrow, but teachers aren't the only frustrated public servants in Oklahoma.

With no raises for teachers in more than a decade, Oklahoma educators now have the lowest average pay of any state in the country.

"This isn't just about teacher salaries", said David DuVall, executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association. It IS about funding for our STUDENTS!

For him, that includes paying the full actuarial payment for the teacher retirement system for 2019-20, funding employee health insurance at the equivalent level payments are now, and for the state to fully fund Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, referred to as SEEK. Many of them said they were fed up with the lack of resources in their schools, and some said they were teaching students about science and technology with textbooks from the 1990s.

"I feel like the message is: I'm going to take the raise while my students get breadcrumbs". The top income tax rate fell from 6.65 percent to 5 percent, with the latest drop taking effect in 2016 even as the state faced a $1 billion shortfall.

OEA president Alicia Priest called it a "good starting point", but not enough.

"That'll be up to the teachers, but I hope that they can come up here, say "thank you" on Monday and go back to the classrooms", Fallin said. The Oklahoma Education Association teachers union, which helped organize the walkout, said the bill was a "down payment" that still needs to rework a $50 million education funding hole. Teachers in districts around the state agreed to stay out of school until better legislation passed.

According to Senate Bill 151, no changes will be made to teachers' annual cost of living adjustments, which are general benefit increases based on increases in the cost of living.

New hires will have to enter a hybrid cash balance plan, in which members contribute a specified amount into their account. On Friday, teachers shut down a number of schools by calling in sick in what was described as a "sickout" on social media.

The bill, which overhauls the state's pension, passed mostly on party lines and went to Gov. Matt Bevin, who supports reforming the system.

Three of the state's largest districts - Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Edmond - plan to close on Monday to honor the walkout.

Of course, many of those protesting today face a different set of state laws than North Carolina, which does not allow for collective bargaining or strikes among state teachers. The organization also asked for a $5,000 pay increase for other school officials, such as bus drivers, food service workers and custodians, according to KOKH. "Every single kid that I've ever had deserves more than this". The sudden reversal of the revenue package has left a huge feeling of uncertainty among educators regarding the commitment to continue efforts to appropriately fund public education. She described the move by state lawmakers as "a bomb that exploded on public service".

"And instead of finding logical sources for funding, they just want to cut and take away".

  • Joey Payne