For a second day, public school teachers rallied at the State Capitol Building in Oklahoma City. Citing the need for higher pay and better funding for schools, the large crowd entered the capitol rotunda seeking an audience with lawmakers to support a tax bill that would provide an additional $200 million for Oklahoma Schools.
In addition to the protest at the capitol, some 30,000 other teachers left their jobs on Monday and Tuesday. These walkouts interrupted school in 70 school districts, suspending classes for 500,000 students in a state with a student population of 700,000. However, many students, parents, and teachers around the state organized events to support the striking teachers.
The Oklahoma teachers are following the pattern set in a by a successful teacher strike in West Virginia and another taking place in Kentucky. Like those states, Oklahoma does provide schools with funding well below the national average. Oklahoma ranks 47th in the U.S. in terms of dollars spent per student, and 48th in the nation in teacher salary average, according to data collected in 2016 by the National Educational Association. This works out to a mean annual average salary of $42,460, with new teachers starting at a wage of $31,600 minimum.
Oklahoma lawmakers tried to diffuse the strike before it happened by passing a $450 million tax bill, which included an average increase of $6,100 to teacher salaries. However, the focus of the package would have forced some school districts to cut back to just four school days a week. Teachers saw this as unacceptable and have requested that the spending bill is revoked and replaced by a package that would provide better funding for both teachers and school districts.
Governor Mary Fallin (R) has shown little sympathy for the striking teachers, suggesting they are acting like teenagers who want better cars. She also implied that the strike was not a product of local frustrated teachers but being led by outside groups, such as the anti-fascist movement, ANTIFA. Claims at which teachers and the local media both scoffed.
With both sides unwilling to budge, it seems a lengthy strike may be in order.