Oklahoma schools face closure two days in a row after teachers walked out in protest over the low salaries on Monday. Teachers from several states, including Arizona, Kentucky and West Virginia, are participating in the recent string of strikes to fight for an increase in salaries and higher school funding.
Why are Educators in Oklahoma Protesting?
The massive walkout, which shut down most schools in the state, occurred only a day after a tax increase was announced as part of Oklahoma’s state legislation. Infuriated teachers and school administrations fear that the new tax will only decrease the staff salaries and reduce funding for other educational activities for children. The tax increase was the last nail in the coffin for educators who already haven’t seen a raise in their salaries for over a decade and are now demanding for higher pays.
Statistics show that teachers from Oklahoma schools have some of the lowest salaries in the country and the continuously decreasing state funding has left schools with no extra money to give their teachers a raise. Since 2008, public schools have seen an 9 per cent decrease in funding from the Oklahoma state whereas the student enrollment in the past 10 years has increased by 8 per cent.
When adjusted for inflation, the education funding for each Oklahoman student has dropped by a whopping 28 per cent, as reported by Oklahoma’s investigative reporter, Ben Felder.
Schools around the country are also facing an acute problem of teacher shortage due to low pays and lack of morale. According to the U.S. Education Department, more and more states are reporting that there aren’t enough qualified teachers for important subject areas like mathematics, English, history, and traditional science to name just a few on the exhaustive list. The shortage is forcing institutions to hire substitute teachers with temporary emergency certifications and no formal education training.
Teachers in West Virginia were among the first ones to walk out of schools in February, leaving schools closed for 9 days. By the time the protesting educators received a 5 per cent raise as an incentive to return to their jobs, the trend had already caught on with teachers from other states, leading to more strikes and school closures.
A baseball coach from Oklahoma named Alberto Morejon, who was also filling in the position of a temporary 8th grade teacher, said that he had watched the West Virginia walkout on the news and was inspired to do the same in his state.
In an interview with CNN, Morejon said that he got on Facebook one day to see if there already existed a group of teachers planning to protest. He typed ‘teacher walkouts, Oklahoma” in the search bar but nothing showed up. That is when he got the idea to start his own Facebook group which now has more than 72,000 followers, most of them being teachers demanding for higher state funding for public schools.
Teachers Infuriated by Inadequate State Funding
The educators in Oklahoma decided to band together and demand for a $200 million increase in state funding as well as a $10,000 raise. However, the funding package approved by Oklahoma House and Senate fell below their expectations. Instead of increasing the state funding, the Oklahoma state legislators passed a tax bill on March 29 which increased school taxes by $447 million.
The legislative package also included a pay raise of $6,100 for teachers and only an $18 million in additional funding. The bill signed by Governor May Fallin approved a raise of up to 18 per cent for Oklahoman educators but the teachers still don’t think it’s enough and decided to walk out of schools in protest on Monday.
Ellen Kraft, a primary school teacher in Oklahoma, told a local news agency that the protests have more to do with than just numbers and pay raise. Educators are demanding respect for their profession and more funding for their students. It isn’t fair for the state to reduce student funding by 28 per cent and then return only half of it, calling it a ‘raise’.
Tuesday’s protests shut down 20 schools in Oklahoma with a collective count of 230,000 students. Teachers in other states like Texas, New Mexico, and Alaska have also expressed their grievances over the inadequate state funding, although, it is highly unlikely that they will protest the latest Senate bill.