Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 21
Oklahoma Teachers Ready to Walk Out if Pay Raise Fails
want to believe the best in people, I
want to be optimistic. It just feels like
with one thing after another, that
hope is being crushed."
Oklahoma's shutdown proposal
came on the heels of the nearly twoweek-long teacher strike in West
Virginia, which concluded when the
legislature there passed a bill giving all public employees a 5 percent
pay raise. After that stunning victory,
teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and
Arizona began to ask: "What if we did
In the Sooner State at least, the
walkout seems inevitable-legislative leaders have called a $10,000
teacher pay raise "unrealistic." Last
week, a $4,013 across-the-board
teacher pay raise passed the state
senate, but lawmakers were unable
to pass a package of tax hikes to
fund the increase.
Then, the speaker of the state
house unveiled a six-year teacher pay
plan that, when fully implemented,
would raise starting teacher salaries
from $31,600 to $42,400. Veteran
teachers with over 25 years of experience would be paid $60,000-a nearly
50 percent pay raise.
The Professional Oklahoma Educators, an association for school personnel that often clashes with the union,
supports the plan. "We need to stop
doing short-term fixes," said Ginger
Tinney, the group's executive director,
in an interview.
But Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest called the
plan a "political stunt" in a statement,
adding that this would not deter a
As school districts brace for an
April 2 shutdown, with many pledging to support their teachers, educators across the Oklahoma City region
express a complicated mix of emotions: They're unsure about the ramifications of walking out of the classroom. They're reluctant to leave their
students. They don't want to disrupt
the school year.
But they're also angry about years
of legislative inaction. Teachers in
Oklahoma haven't received a pay
raise in a decade. Multiple pay raise
bills have gone before the legislature over the years, but none have
passed, in part because Oklahoma
law requires a three-fourths majority
vote in both chambers to pass a tax
On top of the pay issue, public education in the state has weathered
steep budget cuts: Oklahoma ranks
first among states in cuts to education funding per student over the past
decade, according to the Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities, a think
tank in Washington.
"Teacher pay is the tip of the iceberg, but everything has fallen apart,"
said David Blatt, the executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute,
a Tulsa-based think tank.
The state's climate has made it
difficult to recruit and retain talent, he said. There are about 2,000
emergency certified teachers right
Swikar Patel/Education Week
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Sara Doolittle, an English teacher at Norman High School who works full time as a teacher, is a graduate student, and is a
research assistant at the University of Oklahoma, took a major pay cut when her family moved to the state from Colorado.
now-making up almost 5 percent
of the state's 41,150 teachers. Certified educators are leaving in droves
to teach in neighboring states where
they can make about $15,000 more
off the bat.
"I didn't go into teaching because I
thought I'd be rich, but I did think I'd
be able to support my family or contribute to the family," said Sara Doolittle, a high school English teacher in
Norman with 20 years experience.
When she moved from Colorado
to Oklahoma eight years ago, Doolittle's teaching salary went from
about $67,000 to $35,000. (She now
makes $46,754.) After the birth of her
son, she and her husband "crunched
the numbers and thought, there's no
way to make this happen," Doolittle
said. Graduate school seemed like
the best option, as the couple could
use student loans to cover the cost of
daycare. Having an advanced degree
would also move Doolittle up the pay
scale, albeit only slightly.
Now, she is a full-time graduate
student working toward her Ph.D.
and a part-time research assistant,
in addition to teaching full time and
parenting her 4-year-old son and
stepsons, aged 14, 17, and 19.
"I'm just hanging on and trying to
keep myself sane," she said in an evening interview at her home.
For teachers like Doolittle, a walkout is a last-ditch effort to appeal to
legislators: Value us and our work.
Trusting the legislature feels "like
Charlie Brown and Lucy: I can't kick
the football again, but oh my God, I'm
kicking the football again. Hopefully
this [bill] will pass-but then it just
doesn't," Doolittle said. "Finally now
I'm like, 'You can't fool us anymore,
we know you're not going to do it if
we don't make you.' "
That frustration at lawmakers has
spread across the state. According to
an online survey conducted by the
Oklahoma Education Association,
nearly 80 percent of respondents
support a walkout. A Facebook group
titled "Oklahoma Teacher Walkout-
The Time Is Now" has nearly 70,000
members. Over 50 school boards have
voted to support teachers and close
schools April 2.
In Duncan, a small town an hour
and a half south of Oklahoma City,
more than 200 teachers, education
support staff, parents, and students
gathered in the high school auditorium last week to hear from union
officials and the district superintendent about what that shutdown
would look like. They signed bright
red commitment cards provided by
the OEA, pledging their support for a
walkout. Educators snapped selfies to
post on social media with the hashtag
"I did this 30 years ago!" one person exclaimed as the meeting was
getting started, referring to the 1990
statewide walkout, which lasted a
week and resulted in a pay raise for
Melonie Hau, the superintendent
of the Duncan school district, told the
crowd she remembered that walkout
as well. A student teacher at the time,
Hau picketed at the state capitol.
"We deserve more," she said to giant
But "there are consequences for a
work stoppage," Hau said, as the audience grew quiet. The Duncan school
district has a few additional days
built into its calendar, but if the shutdown lasts longer than that, "it's possible your salary could be impacted,"
she told teachers.
That prompted questions, which
continued for more than 30 minutes.
What happens if the legislature tries
to negotiate down how much of a
raise teachers will get? ($10,000 is
the minimum the union will accept,
OEA's Priest said to more clapping.)
Where will the money for the raises
come from? (One avenue would be
raising the state's gross production
tax on oil and natural gas.) How will
school closures affect graduation?
(They shouldn't have an impact.)
One parent asked how she and others could support teachers. Brandi
Jones, a 5th grade reading teacher at
Horace Mann Elementary in Duncan,
walked away from the meeting feeling
grateful for that community support.
She has lived in Duncan for 23 years.
"This is our town," she said afterward. "We stand together."
A 'Heart-Wrenching' Decision
While many left the meeting energized, David Shaw, a geometry and
Algebra 2 teacher at Duncan High
School, said he felt disheartened at
the talk of a shutdown.
"There's a lot to take in," he said.
"It's going to be a challenge."
Shaw coaches soccer, and his players are concerned about missing
games. And students have been asking if they're still going to have experiences like prom. Shaw doesn't know
what to tell them.
The potential financial hit if the
walkout stretches out too long concerns him as well. "[I've] got a family
to support," he said.
That uncertainty is felt across the
state. Tinney, of the Professional
Oklahoma Educators, said some of
the group's 12,000 members are not
in support of a walkout.
"It's a real heart-wrenching thing,"
she said. "It's a tough decision."
Not all teachers are willing to walk
out of their classrooms, even if they
support the movement. Will Blair, an
elementary special education teacher
in Norman, thinks the legislature
should better fund education: Some
months, his wife makes more as a
waitress than he does as a teacher.
Still, he doesn't want to walk out.
"I have kids who are nonverbal,
kids who cannot go to the bathroom
by themselves. ... There aren't a lot of
options for child care," he said. "If I'm
given the opportunity ... I will still be
with my kids during the [shutdown]."
Many teachers share his concerns
about leaving students-especially
those with difficult home lives or
those who are low-income-during a
"Every single teacher is thinking
about that," said Stoltenberg, the
Norman English teacher. "We just
have to remind ourselves of the bigger picture."
Another obstacle: The walkout is
(purposefully) scheduled for the day
the state's testing window opens.
Oklahoma's state superintendent,
Joy Hofmeister, has said that window
will likely not move, leaving federal
funding at stake if students do not
complete required testing.
College entrance exams are also
scheduled across the state for early
April, with Advanced Placement tests
not too far behind.
"To lose this time right before the
test is just awful, that's when we really ramp it up," said Doolittle, who
teaches an AP class. Several of her
students have asked if she would meet
with them at a public library to review
for the test if schools are closed.
"I'm just doing everything I can to
put together study packets for them
for when we're gone, if we're gone,"
Doolittle said. "But if I need to meet
with them, I will."
School administrators are also
grappling with how to best prepare
for an uncertain situation. Rick Cobb,
the superintendent of the Mid-Del
school district in Oklahoma City, said
even if the walkout only lasts a day or
two, it will mess up the testing schedule. He's not sure how the district will
be able to feed its low-income students when schools are closed, and
what to do about the district's support
employees who are paid hourly.
Even so, he and other superintendents understand the reasoning behind the walkout, and they support it.
Hau, Duncan's superintendent, put it
this way: "None of us want to see this
happen. People have described this as
a nuclear option, and who wants that
for our kids and our schools and the
But her district is losing teachers
to other states or better-paying fields.
(One 1st grade teacher quit to work at
a Goodyear plant, Hau said. "She can
make more money on the line making
tires than teaching 1st graders how to
read.") There also isn't enough money
in the district's budget to pay for new
textbooks or supports that students
need, she said.
"We're all hurting," Hau said. "We
all want more for our kids than we're
able to give them right now."
That type of administrative support
is rare in labor strikes, said Blatt, of
the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Still,
teachers wonder whether the support
will last if the legislature isn't able to
pass a plan quickly.
Although the impending walkout is
scary, teachers say they feel a sense
of fierce determination. This is their
chance, they say, to make a difference
for their profession and their students.
"We're not backing down," said Erin
Vaughn, an elementary special education resource teacher in Norman. "We
hope that we're not out for long, but if
we have to, we will stand our ground."
EDUCATION WEEK | March 21, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 21
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 21, 2018
Education Week - March 21, 2018
A Teachable Moment For 2nd Amendment
Student Walkout Taps Well of Anger, Sadness
Sick of Low Pay, More Teachers Prepare to Fight
News in Brief
N.D. Districts Can Substitute ACT For State Test
Study: Don’t Use ACT, SAT to Gauge School Achievement
Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Schools
Educators and Finance Officers Team Up for Better Budgeting
Schools Struggle to Use Data To Get Better
Upcoming March Could Draw On Walkout’s Momentum
Walkout Takes Aim at Gun Violence
FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Response to Shooting Begins to Take Shape
lorida Extends Private-School Vouchers to Bullied Students
Surprise W.Va. Teachers Strike Emboldens Activists Elsewhere
DeVos Still Challenged In Delivering Message
Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
MARY BETH TINKER: I Stand With the Students
FRANK LOMONTE: Student Privacy Laws Should Protect Students, Not School Officials
KIRSTEN BAESLER: Yes, Betsy DeVos, Our Schools Are Innovating
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
LAWRENCE BAINES & JIM MACHELL: The War on Teachers Comes to Oklahoma
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Sick of Low Pay, More Teachers Prepare to Fight
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 2
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - N.D. Districts Can Substitute ACT For State Test
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Study: Don’t Use ACT, SAT to Gauge School Achievement
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Schools
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 9
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Schools Struggle to Use Data To Get Better
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 11
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Upcoming March Could Draw On Walkout’s Momentum
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Walkout Takes Aim at Gun Violence
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - FACT SHEET: Students With Emotional Disabilities
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 15
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 16
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 17
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - lorida Extends Private-School Vouchers to Bullied Students
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Surprise W.Va. Teachers Strike Emboldens Activists Elsewhere
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Shakeup in Office Overseeing Student Privacy Rights
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 21
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - FRANK LOMONTE: Student Privacy Laws Should Protect Students, Not School Officials
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - KIRSTEN BAESLER: Yes, Betsy DeVos, Our Schools Are Innovating
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 25
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - 27
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - LAWRENCE BAINES & JIM MACHELL: The War on Teachers Comes to Oklahoma
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - March 21, 2018 - CW4