As the statewide teachers’ strike in Oklahoma enters week two, attitudes remain high as protesters continue to pour into the Oklahoma Capitol grounds and the building itself to make their voice heard by legislators, determined to have their demands met.
This is amidst news from the Oklahoma Education Association that 95 percent of funding goals have been met, with concerns primarily being focused on sustainability: will the funding be secured for years to come? Or will this be a yearly battle?
Despite the promising news, many teachers and their supporters continue to show up, even making a 110 mile march from Tulsa to the Capitol on April 10. Speeches rang out, and faith leaders and doctors who were volunteering to help the protesters voiced their support to a raucous crowd.
Liberation News interviewed people who were there on April 10, and while each had their individual take on the situation, all were there for one common purpose: to make the legislature fully fund the public education system.
Teacher Genero Pratcher said he had come out to fight for “funding for our children, bottom line. Yes teachers need raises, that’s good, but thats secondary. First is funding for our kids, so they can get taught like they need to be. Right now, we can’t adequately teach them with the funding that we have.” He added, “Stop robbing us of our funding and return all of the funding that’s due to us so we can properly educate our children. Show that you care, because a lot of these legislators, they’re talking with their mouths but they’re not putting any action behind it, so just put some action behind what you say you stand for.”
Liberation also spoke to Chris Watkins, a teacher at West Moore High School. He said he came out because “I’m a teacher, and I believe we need to fund our kids. He added, “Basically we’ve got to keep strong and we’ve got to get this money. I think I’ve heard that we’re 90 percent to our first year of funding. The problem now is year two and year three and continuing on. Getting something sustainable, you know it’s worth the fight. I promise you, going to work would be easier than protesting. It’s been a lot of work, and I think it’s time to go back to school, but we’ve got to go with a good plan in our pocket.” Watkins noted that the school administration had been supportive of the teachers’ walkout, while also trying to be sensitive to the needs of families during the strike. Watkins noted that teachers nationwide are talking about more money. “All I can say is, keep up the fight. Work hard, teach those kids and get the money we deserve.”
As Pratcher noted, teachers need to watch the actions of the politicians, as their words are seem to be receptive enough to the teachers. For instance, Oklahoma State Representative and Democratic Minority Leader Steve Kouplen told Liberation News: “Well, it’s been wonderful working with the educational people in the state of Oklahoma, the teachers. I’m excited about the fact they’ve come up to try and address issues in education, and looking forward to working with them to try and provide a high quality education to all the children here in Oklahoma.” But before the walkout, both Kouplen and the House Speaker Charles McCall (R) each played the partisan blame game, blaming the other party for failing to pass a raise for teachers. The teachers took matters into their own hands and said they are not going to take it any more–and this action is what has pushed the legislature to make the progress that has been made so far towards restoring funding for education and giving teachers a desperately needed raise.
Spirits remain high, and the walkout continues. Only time will tell the true impact, but as it stands now, it would seem things are looking up for educators. As Liberation News has noted, when the people lead, leaders will follow. And the leaders may indeed be following.