Photo via iStock/ AwakenedEye
Children in Oklahoma and Kentucky woke up to an uncharacteristically school-free Monday, but their teachers are still hard at work. After years of stagnant wages, pension cuts, and empty promises from state lawmakers, ten of thousands of educators across the country are taking matters into their own hands, using collective action to walk out of school and demand the funding they so desperately lack.
Inspired by teachers in West Virginia, who striked for nine days last month before winning a 5% raise, school employees across the country are organizing their own actions, standing up to budget cuts and insufficient resources with another wave of walkouts and protests.
According to the Washington Post, teachers across Oklahoma are marching on the state Capitol Monday, demanding $5,000 in annual pay raises for all school employees, $10,000 raises for teachers, and $200 million in additional statewide school funding, to be spent on new textbooks and other in-class resources.
Just last week, Oklahoma lawmakers and Governor Mary Fallin responded to teachers’ protests with a piece of legislation awarding public school teachers $6,000 in raises and $50 million in new funding. But for educators who had not seen a base salary raise in over ten years, the partial concession was not enough to dissuade Monday’s planned walkout.
“They had to make us go to the extreme, and now they’re just trying to throw a Band-Aid on it and it’s just not going to work,” Alberto Morejon, an Oklahoma middle school social studies teacher, told the Post.
The education budget is so bad in Oklahoma that, in addition to problems like children sharing outdated textbooks and insufficient technology programs, a number of schools across the state have transitioned to four-day weeks because they lack the funding to literally keep the lights on.
In Kentucky, thousands of teachers are rallying at the state Capitol in Frankfort in continuation of a protest that began Friday, when public school teachers across the state called out or requested substitutes after Bluegrass State legislators passed teacher pension cuts as part of a bill that originally concerned the state’s sewage system.
Friday’s impromptu protest resulted in the closure of schools in over 20 counties, with even more schools expected to be shut down Monday. In a statement encouraging Kentucky teachers to leave their classrooms and hit the streets, Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler called the bait-and-switch pension cuts “a bomb that exploded on public service.”
Similarly, Arizona teachers have expressed outrage at their state’s lack of education funding and support for teachers, with NPR reporting that thousands of teachers gathered at the state Capitol last week to threaten their own walkout if teachers aren’t awarded a 20% raise and budgetary resource increases statewide. It is not yet clear when or if Arizona teachers will go on strike.
Back in Oklahoma, teachers say they have no plans to return to classrooms until their demands are met, and they are able to not only provide for their own families but for the students they are tasked with educating as well.
"This isn't just about teacher salaries," David DuVall, executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, told CNN. "This is about funding our schools for our students."