Editor’s note: This is the first part of a series detailing the April 2 teacher walkout.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Teachers from all over the state cut class Monday to march on the state Capitol building and meet with their congressmen in a walkout that’s been in the works for over a month.
“We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister blared on speakers as teachers circled the Capitol building with signs and listened to speakers from the Oklahoma Educators Association and other organizations. Others headed inside the Capitol building to meet with their senators and representatives. OEA estimates between 30,000 and 35,000 people attended.
Those attending the rally mostly agreed House Bills 1010xx and 1023xx, which provide pay raises for teachers and a smaller raise for school support staff, was a good first step toward addressing the state’s education funding needs. But doubts and concerns about the future were front and center throughout the day. Ardmore Educators Association President Amanda Cramer attended the rally with about 20 teacher delegates from her district.
“We’ve been up here before, and they’ve told us things, and then within weeks what they told us wasn’t true,” Cramer said. “Every year for 10 years it’s been ‘next year, next year, next year.’”
Cramer said she thinks the walkout most likely caught on the way it did because of the Step Up Oklahoma plan’s failure, a final disappointment after a decade of cuts that disappointed and frustrated many educators.
“Enough is enough,” Cramer said. “Every year you promise something, you never follow through. It was like the biggest slap in the face. We have to do something because nothing is going to change. We’ve been up here before, but it’s never been a movement like this.”
Teachers came from all over the state to advocate for more education funding. Sarah Caldwell, a teacher from Jarman Middle School, said she’s been to six rallies over the years. She said this one felt different in its scope and energy.
“Usually the rallies are more local, the metro area,” Caldwell said. “But we’re seeing people come up from Guymon.”
Aaron Rios, Kylie Rios and their daughter Berklee attended the rally. Both are teachers in Yukon. Berklee attends Skyview Elementary, where Aaron teaches. He said they were marching because they were seeking a permanent improvement to education funding, not just a pay raise.
“We’ve been in education for almost 10 years so we’ve seen the consistent budget cuts and we’ve seen our students, especially now that (Berklee) is a student, and how much they lack,” Aaron Rios said. “We just want to see long-term change. Everything they’ve given us is what they should have given us in 2008.”
Madeline McCoy, a teacher at Dove Science Academy, said the idea that teachers are greedy or ungrateful was frustrating to hear. She said the need goes well beyond teacher pay, and it’s become the norm for teachers to pay for their own supplies to get the job done.
“Teachers do everything they can to make sure they have what they need to teach and do their job,” McCoy said. “That includes going into their own pockets, and I can’t tell you how many grants I’ve written. I don’t see greed in it at all. We’re doing this for our students.”
Edmond Memorial High School got creative in their protest. About 80 students from two different AP classes came to the rally and attended class on the Capitol lawn, sitting at tables in 30 degree weather as if they were in class. Edmond Memorial High School teacher Brook Bullock said the idea was the students from the beginning.
“This grew out of a very serious discussion we had about what we’d do if the Legislature doesn’t do their job and this walkout goes for an extended period of time,” Bullock said. “One of the kiddos, kind of flippantly said, ‘Well let’s just have class at the Capitol!’ And there was that silent moment when everybody suddenly knew an idea had been born.”
Students covered rhetoric and held class discussions before moving on to literature class. Bullock said the students’ physical presence was also meant to draw attention to growing class sizes, even in AP courses and electives.
“It’s their way to symbolically protest the Legislature,” Bullock said. “As a teacher, I say ‘thank you for giving me this raise, but if you’re giving me a raise and don’t fund students and schools… that means class sizes get bigger and bigger.’”
While the crowd grew outside, teacher delegates were meeting with their senators and representatives. Ardmore City Schools’ delegation was among them.