By Jackson Cropper
With April rolling around once again, it marks the one year anniversary of the 2018 Oklahoma Teacher Walkout in which teachers all throughout the state stepped out of their overfilled classrooms to urge the state’s legislature to fund public education in a fair and just way. For some people, it feels like the walkout was a major turning point in an eternity long struggle to raise Oklahoma’s education ranking up from its weak status at number 48. With one year of our teachers holding the attention of state delegates and the media under its belt, you’ve probably wondered if anything really changed between then and now.
One of the main concerns during the walkout was teacher pay. That issue was a driving force that led teachers to cram themselves on buses and fill the lawns surrounding the Capitol building. Even though the Oklahoma legislature passed historic tax revenue bills to fund a teacher pay raise a week before the walkout began, it limited what the raise was going towards. Not only was the bill not enough financially, but it didn’t provide proper support for administrative assistants, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, or other support staff positions.
However, since the walkout ended, some strides have been made towards providing more funds to education. Recently, on February 21st, the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that gave teachers and support staff a $1,200 pay raise.
“I think [the new pay raise] is a good thing,” said Jenks High School English teacher, Mrs. Katie Franco, a passionate teacher during the walkout. “But we still have a long ways to go. We’re making just over $40,000 a year with a college degree. When you’ve been in this career for fourteen years like I have, it can be pretty frustrating.”
Fellow English teacher, Mrs. Sydnie Ritze shared another reasonable perspective on the matter.
“Initially it’s a celebration,” Ritze explained. “But you just can’t help be a little bit skeptical when you’ve been looked over and burned so many times.”
Another problem brought to the table was the overcrowded rooms that teachers constantly struggle to keep up with. Many elementary classes in the Jenks district have surpassed the recommended class size limit of 20 students according to newsok.com. Recently, 4th Grade Jenks Southeast teacher Mrs. Aimee Houston had another student assigned to her already overfilled classroom, making the total number of students 32 (12 students over the recommended limit).
“The increased class sizes make our jobs much harder,” Houston says. “There are more behavior issues, less room in the classroom, and less time to have individualized attention with students.”
Similar to many teachers right now, it’s difficult for Houston to meet all of her student’s specific learning needs. She says that one of the biggest things we can do is continue to advocate for funding from our legislature.
“That’s one of the most important things we can do right now,” Houston continued. “Parents, teachers, and concerned citizens need to keep writing emails, calling representatives, and visiting the Capitol.”
Mrs. Houston’s desire for passionate people to continue speaking out about these issues isn’t just her own. Most teachers across the state would tell you they want the public to constantly be involved in the process. This very action is what caused a few anti-education funding government officials to be removed from the legislature.
“[After the walkout] the focus statewide became electing officials to the state house and the state senate that are pro-education,” stated active Jenks High School educator Mr. Michael Horn. “We succeeded in removing two individuals that were obstacles to public education in our district. They were not supportive of public education by their quotes or by their actions during the walkout.”
Not only were teachers trying to remove unsupportive officials, but they were also striving for better communication with all officials. Currently, Jenks Public Schools has a parent organization that continues to go to the Capitol and stay in the ears of state representatives.
Another good thing to come from the walkout would be the noticeable difference in the public’s perception of education funding. Before the walkout, it was hard to find many people actively upset about issues like dismantled desks and torn-up textbooks, but now, after getting local and national media attention, it feels as if almost everyone is on board with seeking change.
“I think the public is truly aware now,” Franco said.“I don’t want to generalize the entire public, but I really don’t think people were uninformed of how bad our funding situation actually is.”
The main concern teachers have is that as progress is made, the public will stop paying attention too early.
“With the victories that we had because of the walkout,” suspects Mr. Horn, “and also with the 2018 election results, we would suspect that some people have disengaged from the process. Some think we have changed all that we wanted to, but that’s just not the case.”
“Day to day I still cannot tell a difference,” Mrs. Ritze explained. “I think the district operates the exact same way we did as the day before we shut down to go to the capitol. Jenks may be privileged in a way that a lot of school districts are not because of our community. When we went to the Capitol we were not just fighting for Jenks, but for all of Oklahoma education. I’d like to think that many smaller or rural schools are seeing a significant difference because if not then why would we do the walkout in the first place?”
To prevent the need for another walkout, encourage the people around you to still be advocates for public education in Oklahoma! Ask your teachers how you can help first hand.