Oklahoma teacher strike called off after 9 days, as teachers’ demands not met

Casey Quinlan Policy Reporter, Think Progress

After nearly two weeks of strikes, Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest called for an end to the walkout. Although lawmakers passed some bills teachers lobbied for last week, lawmakers still refused to meet all of teacher’s demands. Some teachers have vowed to continue showing up at the capitol in spite of the union’s announcement.

On Thursday, Priest said the union will support teachers whether they return to classrooms or not, but that “We recognize that our formal efforts to lobby elected leaders have achieved all that we will be able to accomplish this legislative session.”

Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, said, “We are proud of what we have accomplished, but truthfully, there’s no one left to negotiate with in the statehouse.”

On Thursday, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association also announced that state employees will no longer participate in the strikes. OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley said, “Recent discussions focus solely on education funding and exclude public safety, veterans’ services, mental health, protective services, or any other state agency services.”

Teachers secured some wins before the walkout began, with a $6,100 raise on average for teachers and $1,250 for school support staff. The governor also signed a bill to raise education funding by $50 million over the next fiscal year. But teachers said that wasn’t enough.

Teachers did not win the repeal of the capital gains tax exemption that they pushed for this week, which would reportedly would bring in $120 million annually. They also pressured Gov. Mary Fallin (R) to veto a repeal on a tax on hotel and motel stays, which could have brought in additional state funding, but the governor signed the legislation anyway.

Last week, lawmakers passed legislation to bring in new revenue to schools through the taxation of ball and dice games, which would give the state an estimated $22 million, and the collection of sales taxes from online retailers, which provides $20 million to the education budget that already passed.

Several major school districts remained closed on Friday, however, including Oklahoma City Public Schools. School districts and individual schools made more than 30 announcements of walkout-related closures on Friday.

Alberto Morejon, the eighth grade social studies teacher at Stillwater Junior High School who started the Facebook page organizing a walkout that now has almost 80,000 members, wrote that Stillwater teachers will still be at the capitol on Thursday.

“We are asking that every district be at the Capitol tomorrow. If your district is closed, we need everyone at the Capitol! If your district is open, please send your delegates to the Capitol … Remember that we teachers are the voice that started this movement, and we are the voice that ends it,” he wrote.

According to News Channel 4 reporter Lance West, many teachers are angry with the union for calling for an end to the walkout.

Elaine Brown, a teacher at the Capitol, told Fox 25, “I feel like they kind of took the coward way out.”

Schools were running out of snow days to use for the walkout, meaning that they’d have to make up some of the days schools were closed, according to the Huffington Post. Some state officials were also concerned about meeting deadlines for standardized tests. Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced on Monday that the state would extend the time period in which students can take standardized tests to prevent the loss of federal funding.

Some parents, as sympathetic as many were to the teachers’ fight for education funding, were struggling to figure out how to get childcare as the strike continued. Some school districts brought meals to children and volunteers held ballet lessons and study sessions to keep kids occupied, according to the Associated Press. Reporters at the capitol said that in the past couple days, crowds began to shrink. The union also shifted some of its demands this week.

Gov. Fallin said in her statement on OEA’s call to end the strike, “I am very proud that Republican lawmakers have led the way on increasing educational expenditures for Oklahoma’s students this session. In addition, they have protected Oklahomans, especially small businesses and farmers, from an irresponsible capital gains tax.”

On Thursday, OEA President Alicia Priest said teachers should turn their attention toward election season.

“We must work harder than ever to elect education champions who put students first,” Priest said.

Teachers lined up at the capitol to turn in their paperwork and run for office on Thursday, according to CNN.

Renee Jerden, a choir teacher, said she’s running for Oklahoma State Senate in District 24.

“We blame it on the teachers, and we blame it on this and we blame it on that,” Jerden told CNN. “But ultimately the reason that it looks like education is failing right now is because of income inequality.”


Reposted from Think Progress

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