Today, as many as 30,000 teachers in Oklahoma are walking out of schools and gathering at Oklahoma City’s Capitol Building in a continuation of a movement that began in West Virginia and has quickly spread to Kentucky and Arizona.
Last month, an unprecedented nine-day strike got West Virginia teachers fairer pay. Today, around 200 school districts are closed in Oklahoma. And in Kentucky, all public schools in the state’s 120 counties are also shuttered as teachers go on strike for better funding and conditions.
Coordinated by the Oklahoma Education Association teachers’ union, the Oklahoma walkout has been in the works for nearly a month and is intended to address a number of budget concerns. As one teacher told HuffPost this morning, “We feel our state legislature has chosen the oil and gas industry over our kids.”
Oklahoma has among the lowest teachers’ salaries in the country. There is little funding for textbooks or supplies, and educators report holding down multiple jobs to provide for themselves and their families. One teacher, Jonathan Moy, told CNN today that he teaches high school algebra, drives a school bus, coaches football and wrestling, is an umpire for the local Little League, and drives for ride-sharing companies—five jobs that allow him to bring home somewhere around $36,000 a year after taxes.
Last week, in an effort to placate the movement, the Oklahoma state legislature approved a pay raise averaging around $6,000, as well as some textbook funding; the hastily passed bill was not enough to get the teachers to back down. It’s unclear how long schools will remain closed, as Oklahoma educators strike for $10,000 raises, better wages for bus drivers and custodians, and funding for local schools.
In Kentucky, similar scenes are playing out as teachers protest a pension reform bill quickly pushed through the legislature last week with little input or attention. And in Arizona, teachers emboldened by West Virginia’s success and by the momentum rippling through other states, wore buttons last week reading “I don’t want to strike, but I will.” Teachers in the state have said they want school funding levels back to their 2008 levels, and higher wages. They have not yet set a date for the strike, but as one teacher told NPR, once they’ve decided on a course of action, “the power is in our hands.”