Why all students should pay attention to the Oklahoma teacher strike

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On April 2, Oklahoma public schools were forced to close when teachers across the state walked out to demand more funding and support for schools from the state legislature. After nine days, Oklahoma teachers claimed a victory and ended the walkout, despite falling short on some of their demands.

This walkout comes on the heels of a similar walkout in West Virginia. In late February, the West Virginia teachers unions called for a walkout in protest of low wages and high healthcare costs, claiming that these issues prevented skilled teachers from remaining in West Virginia public schools. They argued that not only was the way they were treated unfair to them, but it is also detrimental to the state. The West Virginia strike seems to have started a movement: Teachers in other states such as Arizona, Colorado, and, now, Oklahoma have followed suit and organized their own walkout movements.

Oklahoma public schools are among the most underfunded schools in the nation. The state school budget was cut by over 26 percent in the last 10 years, which resulted in a loss of  roughly $1 billion that could have been used for new textbooks, new furniture, building repairs, teacher salaries, and a plethora of other issues these schools face. In fact, these exact problems were brought to national attention as teachers and parents began posting images of the lack of proper resources in these schools to social media. For examples, images showed that the bindings on many textbooks were extremely worn or torn off. Even worse, many books were so old that they contained outdated information. One of the middle school history textbooks even mentions George Bush as the current president.

While outdated information like the mislisting of the current president can be corrected by teachers in their classrooms, necessitating that they do so places an additional burden of labor on teachers who are already overworked and underpaid. Prior to the walkout, the average public school teacher in Oklahoma made $42,925 each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which makes them the lowest-paid teachers in America.

The mere threat of a walkout was actually enough to push Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled legislature to action: In anticipation of the walkout, they passed a $2.9 billion education budget that will increase teacher salaries by an average of $6,000 and the salaries of other school staff by $1,250. But while salaries are a crucial issue, the bill left many other problems unaddressed, and so the teachers continued with their walkout.

On April 12, despite no further legislative movement, leaders of the Oklahoma teachers unions ultimately called for the teachers to return to school. They emphasized that they felt they had accomplished all that was possible with a walkout and that the best way for them to continue the fight to meet their demands was by electing candidates with strong pro-education platforms in the 2018 election. It is imperative that this fight continues, not only in Oklahoma, but across the United States, so that children in this country can receive the education they deserve.

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Lauren Davidson
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