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Okla. Teachers' Union Calls for a $10,000 Pay Raise Over Three Years. Is It Enough?

In a press conference, the Oklahoma Education Association unveiled its plan for a statewide teacher strike: By April 1, the legislature must fund a $6,000 pay raise this year for teachers, followed by an additional $2,000 bump each of the next two years—or schools will shut down across the state. 

The OEA is also asking for a $5,000 raise for full-time education support professionals and for the legislature to restore public education funding by $200 million over three years.

Oklahoma teachers have not received a pay raise in 10 years. According to the Tulsa World, the total cost to fund the teachers' raises would be $1.46 billion over the next three years. Alicia Priest, the OEA president, did not specify revenue source options, saying there has been several proposals in front of the legislature over the past two years. 

"This is what we're asking for," she said. "Our teachers deserve nothing less. ... Schools will stay closed until we get what we are asking for." 

But in the Facebook comments on the livestream of the press conference, several teachers balked: They want a $10,000 raise now.

"Lawmakers have repeatedly failed us," one person wrote. "Do not trust their word." 

"You won't recruit or retain with $6,000 either!" another person said. 

Earlier this week, teachers clashed with the union, which had originally set an April 23 deadline for the legislature to act. Teachers across state—both members and nonmembers—were outraged, saying the date was too late and twouldn't be as effective as striking before state testing dates. After a day of outcry, the OEA pushed the deadline up to April 1. 

This evening, the union plans to hold a "teletown hall" to discuss the plan further. Priest said at the press conference that the union will be holding live community town hall meetings throughout the month and helping school boards prepare "to ensure the safety of students."

"Our goal is to fund education," Priest said. "Our goal is not to shut down schools." 

Legislators are currently considering a bill that would grant a $2,000 pay raise to teachers, Priest said. "We say to the legislature, that's too little, too late," she said. 

According to Reuters, state Rep. Rhonda Baker, a Republican who chairs the state house's education committee, said her main concern is "to ensure education in our state is fairly funded and that any law affecting our schools provides an actual benefit to students and educators."

Representatives from different groups joined OEA's press conference, including Joe Warren, a board member in the Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance. He said small, independent oil and gas producers like himself "stand 100 percent in support of teachers." 

In a statement, the Oklahoma State Schools Board Association executive director urged the legislature to act swiftly and keep teachers in the classroom. 

"Every day that passes without a solution for long-term education funding and competitive teacher pay exacerbates an already devastating teacher shortage," OSSBA's Shawn Hime said. 

Growing Momentum 

Alberto Morejon, an 8th grade social studies teacher in Stillwater, Okla., said he started a Facebook group, "Oklahoma Teacher Walkout—The Time Is Now!" last week after seeing the West Virginia teacher statewide strike on the news. The page has over 60,000 members, and much of the organizing has been talking place in the comments on the page.

West Virginia' strike lasted for nine school days, ending when the state legislature struck a deal to give all teachers a 5 percent raise. The success of the movement invigorated teachers in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky.

Thousands of teachers in Arizona wore red on Wednesday to protest low wages. The president of the Arizona Education Association said that was an indication that teachers across the state might be ready to strike. 

And in central Kentucky, hundreds of teachers rallied in front of public schools Thursday morning to protest proposed cuts to their retirement benefits. Conversations of a statewide schools shutdown are happening there, too. 

"This is only the beginning of an incredible movement," Morejon said. "The time is now."

Correction: A previous version of this post misstated the cost of the proposed pay raise; according to the Tulsa World, it would cost a total of $1.46 billion.

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