Oklahoma’s largest teachers’ union, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), announced on Wednesday that they are planning to institute a teacher walkout on April 2 if their demands are not met. The teachers are seeking higher pay for educators and other state employees. Unless Oklahoma legislators institute a pay raise by April 1, members of the OEA plan to strike on April 2.
According to the teachers’ union, their main problem is that Oklahoma does not fund education as adequately as neighboring states like Kansas. In the past decade, school funding in Oklahoma has been slashed by more than $1 billion. Many local schools have moved to a four day week and other schools have been forced to eliminate science programs, art classes and sports programs. Class sizes have ballooned in many districts, while minimum pay has not increased.
This lack of funding for education is a result of tough economic times for Oklahoma. As the state’s once robust oil and gas sector has declined, sales tax revenues have also gone down. This has forced the government to make drastic budget cuts, and education has been hit the hardest. Currently, only Utah, Idaho and Arizona spend less per student than the Sooner State.
The OEA has a long list of demands for the state government. Their primary demand is a $10,000 raise for all teachers. They also want legislators to institute a $5,000 pay increase for members of school support staff like guidance counselors, social workers and school nurses. The OEA has also discussed giving a $7,500 raise to other state employees.
Oklahoma educators have been inspired by recent events in West Virginia, where striking teachers convinced the governor on Tuesday to sign a bill giving them a 5% raise. The legislation was signed into law in response to a 9-day strike which closed schools across the state.