The statewide teacher walkout has entered its second week, and teachers now say they are in it for the long haul.
The State Legislature has passed some, but not all of the legislation outlined by Oklahoma Educators Association to fund public education and pay raises for teacher and support staff, leaving educators concerned House Bill 1010’s now-mandated teacher pay raises will not be funded after the one-year mark, and Oklahoma’s schools will remain underfunded. While some schools remain closed, Ardmore City Schools has opted to stay open, sending delegates to Oklahoma City for each day of the demonstration.
Will Rogers Elementary School teacher Autumn Simon has been back to the state Capitol three times since the demonstration began. She said every time, there have been more people in and around the building.
“Today was the largest by far,” Simon said.
Simon, who has been teaching for nine years, said that while she’s gone to rallies at the state Capitol before, this one feels different.
“We’ve called, we’ve emailed, we’ve talked and nothing has worked,” Simon said. “This is monumental. We need to stay the course and keep going until we get what our children deserve.”
She said while she’s spoken to teachers from all over the state, others have taken a different approach by marching to Oklahoma City. Groups from Edmond and Norman arrived Monday and a third group of roughly 3,000 is due to arrive on Tuesday from Tulsa.
“It was really cool to see how they were sticking together,” Simon said. “Everyone was there for the same purpose, which is funding education.”
Simon said Girl Attorney LLC, a group that supports and encourages women working in law, came to propose other ways of funding education in meetings with legislators. They also met with Governor Mary Fallin to try to persuade her to veto legislation that would repeal the hotel/motel tax that was originally included in House Bill 1010.
“They were lead in by Norman’s drumline,” Simon said. “We were cheering for them, but they were there holding signs and cheering for us, saying ’stay with it, hold the line, don’t quit,’ because they feel what we’re doing is justified.”
Simon said the outside support boosted morale among the group after a tense first week of demonstrating. First, State Representative Kevin McDougle criticized the protesters’ behavior in a since-deleted Facebook video. Then, in a television interview with CBS, Fallin compared teachers to teenagers demanding a better car, and claimed outside groups were instigating the protests.
“Being able to hear positivity from people there every day witnessing it, we know what we’re doing is making a difference,” Simon said. “I’ve invited parents and students to come experience this.”
Ardmore Middle School teacher Sarah Watts said the group tried to meet with House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, but weren’t able to get an appointment. They met with State Representative Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, to ask him why he voted against House Bill 3375, which places a tax on Ball and Dice games.
“He said he is trying to get a tax on windmills, but that’s the only thing he offered up,” Watts said.
Watts said with several possible solutions on the table, the demonstrations could continue for a long time.
“We want them to know we’re still here and we’re not satisfied,” Watts said. “We’re happy about the raise, but our kids in our schools system need more funding. They need to know we’re not going away.”