Oklahoma teachers to strike Monday; say state's pay offer "not enough"

Oklahoma teachers to strike Monday; say state's pay offer

As lawmakers, teachers, union leaders and special interest groups battle over tax increase bills to fund schools, the most impacted group of Oklahomans might be the almost 700,000 students in the state's public school system.

Pressure is mounting on the Republican-led Oklahoma Legislature to broker a deal on taxes to pay for hundreds of millions in new education spending and avert a threatened strike of teachers next week.

Celeste Fox, a 26-year educator who teaches second grade at nearby Westwood Elementary School, says it's time to stem the long-rolling tide of education budget cuts in Oklahoma. Lawmakers have left funding on the table that could be used immediately to help Oklahoma students. "It's not enough", she continued.

Oklahoma City Public Schools announced that all classes and activities are canceled across the district on Monday, April 2 for the walkout.

Teachers in Oklahoma applauded the state Senate's passage of a $447 million bill to fund educators' first raise in a decade by raising taxes on oil and gas production as well as cigarettes and fuel-but warned that the plan is not enough to keep them from striking.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union that represents almost 40,000 members and school personnel, called the passage of the bill "a truly historic moment", but one that remains "incomplete", according to its president, Alicia Priest. She touted the change as "the largest teacher pay raise in the history of the state" and planned to sign the bill Thursday afternoon, regardless of plans for the teacher strike to proceed. That strike resulted in West Virginia lawmakers approving a 5 percent raise for public school teachers and state employees.

"In our own specific district, we've lost our kindergarten assistants in the last several years, we've lost responsible thinking classroom teaching support. If teachers walkout, you have the opportunity to create hardship for the very students that they work so hard to serve every day so I'm concerned about that and hope they could find a way to express their position without doing that".

"Our classrooms go without updated textbooks, basic supplies, and technology".

"I think students play a major part in this because we are affected, too", said Christian Coleman, a senior at Millwood High School.

Arizona ranks 43rd in the nation in teacher salaries, according to the National Education Association. "But the kids who have come behind me, they only have a Spanish teacher on Skype, and after two years they still really only know simple words like colors and numbers".