Every child’s dream: to wake up and be told school is cancelled. Every Oklahoma teachers dream: to wake up and be told they can return to school on a pay raise. On Monday April 2, Oklahoma public school teachers took part in a walkout to protest low pay.
How low? Oklahoma teachers are paid on average $42,240, which is one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the nation. The demands set by the Oklahoma Education Association were a $10,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers over three years, with an initial raise of $6,000. The State Legislation did pass a bill to raise teachers’ salaries an average of $6,100 on March 29. Although this was touted as the largest teacher wage increase in Oklahoma history, it was not enough to convince teachers to return to business as usual.
“Just like Oklahoma families, we are only able to do what our budget allows,” said Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin in a statement. “Significant revenue-raising measures were approved to make this pay raise and additional school funding possible. We must be responsible not to neglect other areas of need in the state such as corrections and health and human services as we continue to consider additional education funding measures.”
Oklahomans are not alone in their battle for higher wages. Kentucky teachers rallied on Monday as well to protest changes in teacher pension plans. West Virginia has already staged its own walkout that ended with a five percent raise across the board. Many are saying that Arizona could be next.
In contrast, the opposition has their reasons for not complying with the demands. Critics say this is not just about higher wages for teachers but about what they see as unsustainable increased spending on education. According to NewsOK, they point to the other demands the Oklahoma Education Association has laid out, such as a $5,000 raise for all school staff (such as janitors, secretaries and bus drivers), as well as a $200 million increase in school funding over three years, among other things. Another rallying point for the opposition is that teachers already have generous retirement and health care benefits, most of which are already causing budgetary concerns.
Oklahoma teachers are expected to continue the protest until their demands are met.