Oklahoma teachers protest at the Capitol

Srilakshmi Medarametla

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Change comes in shades of gray: with every advancement, there are pros and cons. Recently, Oklahoma state teachers campaign for more, as they ask not just for themselves, but for their students.

So what’d they ask for? What’d they get? And what exactly was the problem?

The picture above sums it all up. As an Oklahoma parent posts a picture of her daughter’s history textbook, an outdated textbook as old as the students themselves, Oklahoma teachers and students beg for paper, scavenging around the community, as one student reports how her English teacher had to run to the church for such a commonplace material that should be in ample supply.

Diane Walker, 48, is a Muskogee High School teacher walks out for a 2nd day on April 3rd during the Oklahoma protest. “We will hold the line until hell freezes over and then we will be here on ice skates. We love our kids.”

If the students’ plight of Oklahoman education system wasn’t enough, teachers also struggle to make ends meet. In Oklahoma, teachers make about 67 cents to the dollar compared to other college graduates. For example, Yukon High School teacher Jonathan Moy works 6 jobs just to keep a roof over his head.

From when it began on April 2nd as the teachers marched toward the Capitol during their 9-day protest until Thursday, April 12, schools closed as many counties were forced to extend the last day of school. However, Oklahoma families weren’t left to fend for themselves, as many teachers organized daycare for students whose parents work, and lunches for those who depend on the school for shelter and food.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, explained on the last day of protest, “Despite tens of thousands of people filling the Capitol and spilling out over the grounds for nine days, we have seen no significant legislative movement since last Friday. We recognize that our formal efforts to lobby elected leaders have achieved all that we will be able to accomplish this legislative session.”

What They Wanted What They Got
  • $10,000 pay increase
  • $6,100 pay increase for teachers
  • raise of $5,000 for support professionals
  • $1,250 for school professionals (funded by the major tax cut)
  • $200 million increase in education funding
  • $50 million increase

 

“As classes resume, we must turn our attention towards the election season,” Priest said in a statement. “We have the opportunity to make our voices heard at the ballot box. The state didn’t find itself in this school funding crisis overnight. We got here by electing the wrong people to office.” Consequently, it wouldn’t be surprising if Oklahoma, a dark red state, might look a little different after this year’s midterm elections.

But this protest didn’t begin and end with teachers on one side, legislators on another, struggling to progress beyond the impasse. In fact, inspired to create change, several mom lawyers from an organization known as Girl Attorney, made their way to the Capitol to mediate and find a middle ground between the parties.

Susan Carns Curtiss, founder of Girl Attorney, said even women without children are stepping up because they feel that Oklahoma’s education system affects everyone.

“The current situation is not sustainable,” she told CNN. “It’s not good for the kids, it’s not good for the teachers and it’s not good for the state.” Even for people beyond Oklahoma, it is the country’s best interest to ensure the children who will become the future have access to a better education.

In fact, many of these moms also brought their daughters. Becki Murphy, an attorney from Tulsa explained, “I want her [my daughter] to see that we are powerful, we are strong and we can effect change.”

And with that simple statement, Murphy explains how students can get involved, not just in Oklahoma, but in places like Virginia at Jefferson too. Maybe not in the fight for better education, as northern Virginia has some of the highest-ranked public schools in the country, but in other matters that you’re passionate about, what you as a student believe in. We’ve seen Jefferson’s capabilities and the potential of the students, with the organized, successfully executed protest against gun violence a few weeks ago. Students can get involved and effect change too, just find a movement you’re passionate about, and figure out how you can make a difference, whether it be something perceivably small like better cafeteria food, or to start an awareness campaign into girls’ education.

 

Along with every movement for a better tomorrow, while there are indeed things that improve, there are always unintended consequences that arise, which again, champion a new movement. After all, such a cycle is only human.

And by far, Oklahoma teachers don’t intend to stop fighting, as Cindy Gaete, an Oklahoma teacher cried, “Just because the Capitol is not filled with 30,000 teachers does not mean this fight is over.” Following protests in West Virginia, leading to Oklahoma, and perhaps next to Kentucky and Arizona, something says these protests are just the beginning of a new movement.

 

Read More:

  1. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/05/599926898/oklahomas-teachers-continue-walkout-as-lawmakers-vote-on-giving-them-more-money
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/03/us/oklahoma-teachers-textbooks-trnd/index.html
  3. https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/03/us/oklahoma-teachers-walkout/index.html
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/09/us/oklahoma-teachers-walkout/index.html
  5. http://time.com/5239548/oklahoma-teachers-walkout-ends/
  6. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/14/602462055/union-leader-calls-for-an-end-to-oklahoma-teachers-9-day-strike
  7. https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/07/us/mom-attorneys-oklahoma-trnd/index.html
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