OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The president of Oklahoma’s largest teacher’s organization said Thursday that teachers will walk out of their classrooms if lawmakers don’t approve a $6,000 raise by April 1, echoing the demands of other educators to boost teacher pay and increase education funding across the U.S.
Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said teachers are planning a statewide work stoppage on April 2 unless the Legislature raises their salaries for the first time since 2008.
“We demand that the Legislature pass a budget with the necessary revenue to provide teacher and support personnel with a significant pay raise,” she said at a news conference. Priest said teachers are demanding a $6,000 raise this year and $2,000 in each of the next two years.
“After years of doing more with less … Oklahoma educators have reached a breaking point,” Priest said. “We will not allow our students to go without any longer.”
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Educators contend low salaries for teachers and school support personnel have made staff shortages and overcrowded classrooms common in Oklahoma’s public schools. The National Education Association ranked Oklahoma 49th in the nation in teacher salaries in 2016.
Kim Morris, an elementary school teacher from Mannford with 23 years of experience, said her family has suffered financially because of the sacrifices she is forced to make as a teacher in Oklahoma.
“This is enough,” she said. “If the Legislature will not do its job, I will walk.”
Chuck McCauley, superintendent of schools in Bartlesville, said low teacher salaries and teacher shortages are threats to quality education in Oklahoma.
“Our teachers are at the tipping point. They’re ready to walk out the door,” McCauley said.
Earlier Thursday, state Superintendent of Schools Joy Hofmeister told the Board of Education that plans for a teacher walkout gained momentum since “plan after plan” to provide a raise failed in the Legislature.
Hofmeister said Oklahoma teachers require a competitive salary to end a “true crisis” of chronic teacher shortages and overcrowded classrooms. She said the state needs to increase teacher pay by $5,000 a year to be competitive in the region.
“Our children deserve and need a high-quality education,” Hofmeister said. “Education must be the centerpiece for investment in our state.”
In a statement, House Speaker Charles McCall said he shares teachers’ frustration and is committed to finding a way to increase teacher pay this year. McCall said a constitutional requirement that any tax increase receive a three-fourth’s majority vote in the 101-member chamber has made a teacher pay raise difficult.
“Time and again, a large majority of our caucus has supported every revenue raising option to provide for a teacher pay raise — without much help from House Democrats,” McCall said.
A nine-day teacher strike in West Virginia led to a 5 percent pay raise this week, hundreds of teachers in Kentucky rallied Thursday to protest proposed benefit cuts, and Arizona teachers also are contemplating walkouts.
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report.