Some Oklahoma Schools Are Reopening, But Not All Teachers Are Coming Back
Today, the ninth day of the Oklahoma teacher walkout, several school districts reopened their doors and the state teachers' union began signaling an end to the walkout. But many teachers say they're not ready to return to the classroom.
While most of the state's 20 largest school districts remained closed today, two called teachers and students back to the classroom: Bartlesville (a suburban district outside of Tulsa) and Moore (outside of Oklahoma City). But hundreds of Moore teachers called out to protest the district's decision to reopen. The district needed more than 300 substitute teachers on Thursday, according to local news.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Education Association has issued a primer on the state of education funding that says 95 percent of teachers' asks have been met. And according to local news station KOCO 5, the union is working on a deal with house Republicans to take $100 million from growth revenue next year and appropriate it to education in 2020's budget. Legislators could vote on that resolution this week. The news frustrated many educators, who want an immediate boost of funding to public education.
On the Facebook group, "Oklahoma Teacher Walkout—the Time Is Now!," which has over 76,000 members, organizer Alberto Morejon added a poll on Wednesday night: "If OEA says the walkout is over (without additional school funding for Year 1), will you consider the walkout to be over?"
More than 6,800 people voted no. About 300 people voted yes.
As I reported last month, this walkout has been largely teacher-driven, with a bulk of the organizing happening on social media. In Oklahoma, a right-to-work state, the teachers' union doesn't have a stronghold over educators there, and it's largely been playing a supportive role to teachers during the walkout.
"OEA doesn't speak for all of us," one teacher wrote on the Facebook poll. Another added: "It is not over until we all decide it is over."
Still, Oklahoman reporter Ben Felder tweeted that the crowd at the capitol on Thursday was the smallest it had been during the nine-day walkout. Many school districts had called their teachers back to work because of concerns about state testing—public schools have until April 27 to administer paper tests and until May 4 to administer tests online.
So far, teachers have experienced both legislative victories and defeats. The legislature passed a $6,100 teacher pay raise, as well as several revenue-raising bills that the OEA estimates will add $70 million in school funding in fiscal year 2019 and an additional $22 million the next year. But despite teachers' demands, the state house has repeatedly refused to hear a measure that would reinstate the capital gains tax and provide more money to schools, and Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill to repeal a tax on hotel and motel stays that would have generated about $42 million in education funding.
According to the Tulsa World, teachers now want the legislature to come up with at least $50 million in new operational funding for schools.
"This movement was never started by OEA, it was started by the collective voices of teachers," teacher Molly Jaymes told the Tulsa World. "We don't want it to end anti-climatically, but even if this thing fizzles out in a manner we are not satisfied with, we've very encouraged to go into November and campaign season as a collective, motivated group."
Meanwhile in Kentucky, the governor vetoed an education budget that would have provided around $4,000 per student and signed a controversial pension-reform bill into law. Teachers are outraged and plan to storm the state capitol on Friday to urge the legislature to override the budget veto.
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Image: Benita Boone, right, an educator who joined a 110-mile trip from Tulsa to the state capitol, shouts as the walkers rally with other teachers as protests continue over school funding in Oklahoma City on April 10.—Sue Ogrocki/AP