The Oklahoma Education Association announced on Tuesday night that schools would shut down across the state if the state legislature does not pass a $10,000 pay raise for teachers and increased funding for schools by April 23.
But that announcement sparked outcry among Oklahoma teachers, who called for a much earlier strike date of April 2. The teachers said April 23 was too late and wouldn’t be as effective as striking before state testing dates. Other teachers have floated a March 26 strike date, which is the Monday after spring break. Union leaders said they wanted to give the legislature time to pass a bill that addresses their issues and that superintendents across the state supported the April 23 date.
Update, 3/7, 5:30 pm: Wednesday afternoon, OEA president Alicia Priest posted a video message acknowledging the frustration and anger of teachers across the state. She said the union has set a new deadline for the state legislature to pass a bill with a significant teacher pay raise and increased education funding—April 1. If the legislature does not pass one, OEA will call for a statewide schools shutdown beginning April 2.
“We will be at the capitol until a solution is passed and signed by the governor,” she said.
On Tuesday night, following outrage from teachers, the union deleted the post calling for an April 23 strike date and posted on Facebook: “We hear you. We are putting together more information for you about the strategic reasoning of proposed school closure dates. We all have the same goal: pay raises for education employees and fully funded education. #TogetherWeAreStronger.”
The union plans to hold a press conference on Thursday to unveil its plan.
Momentum for a strike in Oklahoma has been building over the last few weeks. Teachers, who haven’t received a pay raise in 10 years, were outraged after the legislative defeat of the Step Up Oklahoma plan last month, which would have imposed additional taxes on cigarettes, diesel fuel, wind energy, and oil wells to give teachers a $5,000 annual pay raise. News of the West Virginia strike, which lasted nine school days before legislators agreed to give teachers a 5 percent pay raise, invigorated many teachers.
An Oklahoma Education Association survey found that nearly 80 percent of respondents—OEA members, nonmember education employees, parents, retirees, community members, and students—supported a strike.
One teacher started a Facebook group last week called “Oklahoma Teacher Walkout—The Time Is Now!,” which has garnered almost 60,000 members. A poll on the Facebook page asked teachers which date they would support for a strike: Nearly 7,000 people voted for April 2, while only about 250 people voted for the later date.
On that group, many teachers voiced their displeasure with the statewide union. “Unless they change their plan, the OEA needs to understand the irony that this walkout is about teachers feeling like they’re not being listened to,” one person wrote.
The major school boards in Oklahoma have already thrown their support behind teachers. The Oklahoma City school board passed a resolution this week urging the state legislature to pass pay raises for teachers. “We are confident our community ... will gracefully fill the gap and make the sacrifices it will take while our teachers advocate for what they need to educate our children and secure the future of Oklahoma in ways they see fit,” the resolution read.
The Tulsa school board also introduced a resolution saying it supports teachers’ activism toward the state legislature. On March 12, the district will support teachers in a “work the contract” protest, meaning that teachers will only work the seven hours and 50 minutes per school day stipulated in their contract—and will take on no additional responsibilities or take-home work. The district will support escalating actions in later months, including coordinated, short-term walkouts in early April and a district-wide shutdown in early May, according to the Tulsa World.
The Bartlesville school district superintendent announced he would be urging the school board to adopt a resolution at its Monday meeting to support teachers in whatever collective statewide action they agree upon. That might mean lengthening the school day at the district’s high school beginning on March 15 to make sure students receive the state-mandated minutes of instructional time, even in the event of an April schools shutdown.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.