Oklahoma Teachers Return To Classes

Oklahoma teachers are returning to class after a nine-day walkout that shut schools across the state. The Oklahoma Education Association gave legislators an April 1 deadline to provide new revenues or face a walkout. The walkout drew thousands of educators out of classrooms and to the state Capitol. Parents and students also participated in protests.

Over the last decade, Oklahoma has pursued some of the deepest tax and public-service cuts in the nation. Adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma’s spending per student has plummeted nearly 30 percent over the past decade. Oklahoma’s teachers are among the worst paid in the nation. Nearly 20 percent of schools moved to four-day school weeks to save money.

Teachers will now receive a raise of about $6,000, depending on experience, and members of schools’ support staff will see a raise of $1,250. This was the first time in 10 years that state lawmakers had raised the salary schedule. The state has also passed legislation that adds $50 million to school funding. Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, called the walkout “a victory for teachers.”

Oklahoma’s largest teachers’ union said it had achieved all that it could with the walkout. The teachers’ initial demands were for a $10,000 raise for themselves, a $6,000 raise for support staff and $200 million in additional classroom funding. The concessions would not enable districts with four-day school weeks to return to five.

The announcement of the end to the walkout does not necessarily end the protests at the Capitol. The union and school districts said they plan to keep pressure on lawmakers. They also plan to make school funding a primary issue in the November elections, when Oklahoma will choose a new governor.

A recent wave of teacher protests have occurred in several conservative states. In West Virginia, teachers won a $2,000 raise after walking out in protest of low wages and increased duties. In Arizona, a teacher movement has threatened a walkout over raises and more money for schools. Lawmakers in Kentucky are also facing protests over cuts to school funding.

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