For teachers like Nicci Francis, the end of the nearly two-week teacher walkout in Oklahoma at the behest of the state’s largest teacher union was a disappointment, not a time to rejoice.
“I don’t believe their decision to do that truly reflected what their membership was wanting,” said Francis, who teaches fifth-grade English at Piedmont Public Schools.
Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) President Alicia Priest called for an end to the walkout on Thursday, saying there had been little significant legislative movement since the first week. “OEA leadership has been negotiating in good faith with the House and the Senate, but Senate Republicans won’t budge an inch on any more revenue for public education,” she said in a statement. “They say they don’t believe Oklahoma students need more funding. They’re wrong. Lawmakers are simply refusing to cross the finish line.”
OEA had sought a $10,000 pay raise over three years for teachers, a $5,000 raise for support staff, and an increase in public school funding. Before the walkout started, the legislature passed more than $400 million in education spending, largely going toward raises that amounted to about $6,100 per teacher.
Two additional revenue measures were passed, but lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state house said they wouldn’t take up the capital gains exemption—a demand sought by OEA officials that reportedly would have raised $120 million per year.
Francis said OEA went from having a list of demands to focusing on specific legislation, which never came to pass. “They went from saying our ask is our ask and we’ll stay out until these demands are met to the end of the first week, they started saying how much progress we made, which was really none,” she said.
Priest said the focus needed to turn instead to the November elections. The filing period for candidates hoping to run in the 2018 elections was last week. According to the Oklahoma state election board, 600 candidates filed for office amid the walkout as of the morning after it ended, the highest number of candidates to file for office during the state’s three-day filing period in at least 18 years. Ultimately, 794 people filed to run for office, including some teachers.
Many schools conducted surveys each day of the walkout to see how many teachers would be taking part in the rally, and some schools had decided to reopen by Thursday.
But teachers like Francis thought the walkout should continue.
“I was thoroughly disgusted with their decision to pull out, especially with the timing,” she said. “A lot of people wanted to give it at least until Monday because filing for new candidates ended Friday.”
On Monday, she said, elected officials who were unopposed might have suddenly found themselves with competition and may have been more apt to step up, she said.
“I felt like the timing was really off and I don’t think it’s what the majority of the membership wanted,” she added.
Like Francis, Daniel “Ozzy” Osborne said he was disheartened by the end of the walkout. Osborne was one of the educators who took part in the March for Education, a 110-mile walk between Tulsa and the Capitol in Oklahoma City. Osborne was able to take part in two days worth of marching—about 34 miles—but had to stop after developing a kidney stone midway through. He said he was upset the walkout “failed.”
“The walkout succeeded in gaining global awareness to the education crisis in Oklahoma,” said Osborne, who teaches advanced mathematics to ninth through 12th-graders at East Central High School in Tulsa. “It just failed in convincing our lawmakers to go against their ‘take from the poor and give to the rich’ political values.”
Osborne said he’s happy to return to what he loves: teaching and mentoring students.
“I just hope the majority of Oklahomans—who most assuredly supported our cause—remember these uncaring lawmakers in November,” he added.
Francis will continue to travel to the Capitol as part of a group of teachers from Piedmont, talking to elected representatives and pushing for more education funding.
“I think if you keep the pressure on them, there may be some room there,” she said.
Francis said a group of parents is starting a new initiative, Pass the Torch, that calls for teachers to hand over their protest signs to parents who will continue the rally at the Capitol.
“That’s kind of a neat thing going on,” she said.