The teacher strike continues, with participation increasing as the strike progresses.
By Hollye Carroll
Photos courtesy of Eric Bradford
Teachers across the state began a walkout April 2 in response to the lack of support from local government. This marks the first teacher strike in Oklahoma since 1990. The Oklahoma legislature had an April 1 deadline to vote on the teacher pay raise — the last one happened 10 years ago. Legislators hoped to prevent the strike by passing a last-minute bill March 28 that provided teachers with an average pay raise of $6,100.
However, the Oklahoma Education Association is seeking a $10,000 pay raise for teachers over three years, a $5,000 pay raise for support professionals over three years, a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees and the restoration of funding for education and core government services.
Oklahoma teachers are ranked among the lowest paid in the country despite the bill lawmakers passed March 28. House Democrats strategically used a procedural move to bring Senate Bill 1086 to the House floor only to have it blocked by Republicans on Monday, April 2 and Tuesday, April 3.
Ruby Coyle, 29, an Oklahoma City Public School kindergarten teacher at Coolidge Elementary, expressed her hopes and concerns about the strike.
“I’ve been looking forward to the strike and so have all of my coworkers,” Coyle said. “I haven’t spoken to a teacher who doesn’t support the strike in some capacity. What makes me nervous is that teachers could become divided or end up settling for less than we deserve just to reach a deal. I think one of the strengths and weaknesses of our profession is that we are a pretty diverse populace as far as our political beliefs. It’s hard to unite people who have such different ideas about how the world works.”
Oklahoma is ranked 49th in the country when it comes to teacher pay. Arkansas pays $14,000 more and Texas pays $20,000 more. Some are making the most of the situation. Coyle said she received an email from the State of Texas upon earning her teaching license.
“They set up shop at a hotel downtown and it was an open invite to come interview with them,” Coyle said. “The email is in normal type, except in bold it says ‘$20,000.’”
Coyle spoke about the reality of Oklahoma teachers leaving the state for bordering states paying more. Last year’s Teacher of the Year moved to Texas with his wife, also a teacher, and they are now earning a combined extra $40,000 a year.
“I mean, that amount of money changes lives,” Coyle said.
Those opposed to the strike have expressed concerns over the lack of childcare available on April 2.
Matt Barger, 39, is the Specials Instructor at Special Care, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in northwest Oklahoma City. Barger spoke about the dilemma they faced in wanting to close in solidarity with teachers: Their students require extra assistance, which The Boys and Girls Club or a day camp at Science Museum Oklahoma cannot provide.
“This decision was primarily made because a lot of the students have physical and mental disabilities that require special supervision,” Barger said. “We’re going to be open for all of the school-age students. We have classrooms available for anyone, K-12, when they’re out of school on holiday breaks and we decided to be open for them during the strike.”
Barger said he supports the teachers’ strike professionally but also personally, because his wife is an OKCPS teacher.
“Teachers are thought of as public servants but not viewed the same way as firefighters,” he said. “They’re seen as the hired help. The role of a teacher today is so multifaceted and they haven’t had a raise in 10 years. I don’t think anyone would tolerate that in his or her line of work. Especially a person who has earned a degree, earned a licensure and done all of the things teachers are required to do in order to teach.”
Coyle spoke about the disparity in hours worked and pay received. She’s contractually paid for a seven-hour workday, yet works at least 60 hours a week.
OKCPS provides an incremental pay raise of roughly $200 a month, but as the allocation per student continues to decrease, the out-of-pocket money each teacher spends continues to increase.
“I’ve had to buy a printer and a laminating machine that I keep at home because we can’t even print in color at school,” Coyle said.
One thing remains clear: Our local educators showed up Monday and felt optimistic about the future.
“It was so empowering to be with my fellow teachers on Monday and I’m planning on returning to the State Capitol every day until the strike is over,” Coyle said. “I’m just reminded of the Lilian Katz quote: ‘Affluence makes even mediocre teaching look good and poverty can make masterful teaching appear mediocre.’”
An estimated 30,000 teachers and educators gathered at the State Capitol Monday, April 2, with thousands returning Tuesday. According to the Oklahoma Teacher Walkout Facebook group, 200 of 550 school districts remained closed through Friday, April 5 (at time of press).
Correction: In the April print issue of the 15th Street News, the walkout was referred to as a strike. The correct term is walkout.
The 15th Street News is a student publication at Rose State College.