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Fed Up With Low Pay, Oklahoma Teachers Consider a Walkout

Oklahoma teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. They've had their hopes for a pay raise dashed time and again. Now they appear to have had enough. Momentum for a statewide walkout is growing.

The final straw for teachers was the legislative defeat last week of the Step Up Oklahoma plan, reports news9.com. The measure aimed to raise more than $700 million by imposing additional taxes on cigarettes, diesel fuel, and wind energy, as well as raise the gross production tax on oil wells from 2 percent to 4 percent. Some of that money would have been used to give teachers a $5,000 annual pay raise.

On Twitter, state superintendent of public instruction Joy Hofmeister called the failure to pass the plan a "soul-crushing blow for education." High school social studies teacher Kelsey Condley also expressed his disappointment on the social media site, arguing that nothing short of a strike would make a difference. 

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Complicating the situation is a bill that slashes school funding has quickly made its way through the legislature this week, with the House passing it on Monday and the Senate on Wednesday. If Gov. Mary Fallin signs it, and she has signaled that she will, the Oklahoma Department of Education will be hit with a $16.2 million cut.

These are just the latest disappointments that teachers in Oklahoma are enduring. Back in November of 2016, Oklahoma voters soundly defeated a ballot initiative that would have given most teachers $5,000 pay bumps. Those raises were going to be funded with a new 1 percent state sales tax. Subsequent proposals for pay raises in the legislature also failed to garner enough support.

But now teachers may be pinning their hopes on a walkout. Third grade teacher Teresa Danks, who last year panhandled for school supplies, started a walkout petition on change.org that has more than 6,300 signatures so far. One commenter on the site, Gay La Carmichael, wrote: "I'm tired of being told 'all the good teachers are leaving.' I'm tired of being told I knew what I was getting into when I chose to become a teacher. I'm tired of scraping by to pay my bills. I'm tired of hot gluing and taping my textbooks together. My students deserve better. I deserve better."

Some have hope that a walkout could work as it did nearly two decades ago. Teachers held a strike for four days in April 1990 to press for a bill that included pay increases, and won.

In West Virginia, teachers are also calling for higher wages and better benefits, Madeline Will reports in Teacher Beat. They're in the midst of a massive two-day strike that has shut down schools across the state. 

Will Oklahoma teachers do the same? President of the Oklahoma Education Association Alicia Priest said the first step will be to gain the support of parents and the larger community, according to Oklahoma's News 4. She also said a walkout would have to be tied to a specific piece of legislation, as it was in 1990. That said, she didn't rule it out. "When we walk out, it is for our kids," Priest said. "And, we've got to do better. And, so, it may be time again soon."


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