The Oklahoma Education Association is giving lawmakers three weeks to come up with a plan for boosting teachers’ pay and providing more money for public schools or face the consequences.
The state’s largest teachers union is demanding a $10,000 raise for teachers, divided into a $6,000 raise this year and an additional $4,000 over the next two years. The OEA also wants the Legislature to give full-time school support staffers a $5,000 raise and provide an additional $200 million for public schools.
And if lawmakers fail to meet those demands by April 1, the OEA is urging teachers to join a statewide walkout.
“Today, we demand that the Legislature pass a budget with the necessary revenue to provide teachers and support professionals a significant pay raise and restore critical funding to our classrooms,” OEA President Alicia Priest said during a press conference Thursday in Oklahoma City. “The future of our students and our great state hang in the balance.”
An Ada News reporter monitored the press conference, which was live-streamed on the OEA’s Facebook page.
State law requires lawmakers to present a budget for funding public schools by April 1 each year, Priest said. She added that the OEA was simply asking lawmakers to follow the law and grant the union’s requests by the deadline.
“If by April 1, they have been unable to meet the terms we’ve laid out, then on April 2, the Oklahoma Educational Association calls on every teacher, support professional, administrator to walk out of their schoolhouse and head to the Capitol,” Priest said. “On April 2, schools across the state will begin to shut down.”
Ada City Schools Superintendent Mike Anderson, who did not attend the press conference, said some school boards talked about the possibility of a teacher walkout during their regularly scheduled meetings last Monday. He said the Ada Board of Education will discuss the issue at its next meeting, set for March 12.
The OEA wants the Legislature to meet the following demands over the next three years:
• Grant teachers a $10,000 raise, including a $6,000 raise in fiscal year 2019.
• Provide a $5,000 raise for full-time school support staff (secretaries, custodians, bus drivers and others), including a $2,500 raise in the first year.
• Increase state aid to schools by $200 million, including $75 million in the first year.
• Earmark $213 million for pay raises for state employees, which equals $71 million each year over three years.
• Boost funding for health care by $255.9 million over two years — $234.6 million in FY 2019 and $21.3 million in FY 2020.
The overall package totals $812 million for FY 2019.
Priest said lawmakers have several options for meeting the OEA’s demands, such as raising the gross production tax for oil and natural gas, but the union’s plan did not identify any specific sources of revenue. She added that several other groups have suggested ways to boost teacher pay and provide more money for schools.
“There are all kinds of blueprints out there that give ideas of where the Legislature can go for those monies,” Priest said.
Several people who supported OEA’s call for action joined Priest at the press conference. They followed her lead in urging the Legislature to move quickly.
Kim Morris, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the Mannford Early Childhood Center, said she taught first grade for most of her career, but she is teaching pre-K this year because her district has reduced the number of first-grade teachers. She said when she began her new assignment, she had to buy her own curriculum materials because the district could not afford to pay for them.
Morris said her students have to learn in a school where half the lights are turned off during the day and the thermostat is set at 63 degrees as cost-saving measures. She said her students have to bundle up so they can stay warm during the day.
Morris said she loved her students and wanted them to succeed despite those problems, but she could not continue to work under such conditions.
“I don’t want to see schools across Oklahoma shut down, but we’ve come to the point where the Legislature will not do its job,” she said. “I will walk. I will walk out for my kids.”