The Oklahoma teacher walkout is over — but not for everyone.
On Thursday afternoon, Oklahoma’s largest educators association announced an end to the nine-day walkout, saying lawmakers “won’t budge an inch.” The group said that it would take the $479 million in extra school funding educators got from lawmakers before the strike — a fraction of the $3.3 billion they had demanded — and that members would return to work.
“I call on our community members to continue supporting these educators as they walk back into the classroom. We want as much support from them after the walkout as they received during the walkout,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said during a press conference. The OEA framed the walkout as a victory that ended with millions of dollars more in school funding.
Priest said that most of OEA’s members wanted to resume classes. But despite media reports to the contrary, the association is not a teachers union — it’s a professional association for school administrators, teachers, and retired educators that has no collective bargaining authority, as Priest told Vox.
And hundreds of teachers were furious Thursday that OEA had ended what they viewed as their walkout.
“Remember that we teachers are the voice that started this movement, and we are the voice that ends it,” wrote Alberto Morejon, a social studies teacher who started the Facebook group Oklahoma Teacher Walkout, which has drawn more than 70,000 members.
Morejon called on teachers to return to the capitol Friday morning to decide on their next course of action. Hundreds of teachers responded in the comments section about their anger over OEA’s decision. Dozens said they were calling OEA to cancel their memberships. None of those who had commented as of Thursday said they were ready to go back.
“I think the legislators were ready for us to be out 2 weeks ... I don’t think they were ready for 3. I think we should stay out until there is movement with wind energy or Capital Gaines [sic]. Unions, Districts and Parents may turn on the movement ... but that just shows that they were never actually WITH US!! Nothing worth having is EASY. CHANGE IS ALWAYS INCONVENIENT!!!” one teacher posted.
The state’s major school districts, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa, remained closed on Friday, and an undetermined number of teachers said they would continue to call in sick to keep rallying at the capitol.
They say the $479 million lawmakers agreed to give them is far too little and doesn’t solve the school funding crisis. It gives teachers an average $6,000 pay raise next year, and about $1,250 for school support staff. The main problem, in their view, is that it’s a one-time boost for teacher pay and not as much funding for schools as they wanted. Even though lawmakers raised taxes to pay for some of it, the revenue from some of those taxes will only be a one-time deal.
On top of that, Republican legislators introduced several bills on Tuesday to get extra money for teachers and books by capping school superintendents’ salaries and eliminating some of their positions. It was a veiled threat to school administrators, and some teachers believe it spooked administrators at their schools.
On Thursday, Priest looked exhausted and resigned at the press conference, but insisted that the fight is not over.
“As classes resume, we must turn our attention toward the election season. Instead of making our case at the steps of the Capitol, we have the opportunity to make our voices heard at the ballot box. ... A record number of candidates have filed for office, including OEA members who will be the best advocates for our students in the Oklahoma legislature,” she said.