Why the Oklahoma Teacher Walkouts Are So Important

In Oklahoma—a deep red state—teachers heard glorious news after nine long, exhausting days spent protesting the state government after walking-out. The walkout, prompted by low salaries and poor school funding, pushed for a $10,000 raise in wages for teachers, a $5,000 raise in wages for support staff, and $200 million in additional school funding. True to the state’s conservative ideals, the state has been working to cut various taxes and services, sacrificing education in the process by lowering salaries for teachers and nearly eliminating the budget for education funding. Teacher salaries in Oklahoma have been low for years: teachers typically need ten years of experience before they make $40,000 per year, meaning many educators have to mow lawns and work retail jobs to make ends meet. This dramatically reduced budget also impacted the classroom, forcing teachers to adapt to four-day weeks in 210 of the state’s schools, ancient textbooks, and classes of 30 to 40 students, and eventually they decided enough was enough.

Studies about poverty and hunger consistently prove that poor education is a key factor in reducing upward mobility. Although legislators tend to ignore this key fact when slashing budgets, the reality is simple: to develop economically, personally, or interpersonally, education is a must. Therefore, this logic can be applied to Oklahoma ‘s situation in which students are continuously deprived of educational opportunities and funding, forcing the state to remain economically undeveloped, only increasing its already alarming 16.3% poverty rate. Teachers, who stepped into their underpaid and difficult jobs for the chance to educate and inspire, had to stand up for students who, without their courageous protest, would be ill-equiped to escape from the clutches of poverty.

Although many of the teacher’s demands were not fully met, this walkout has been a major success for educators, parents, and students, as the walkout sets a precedent for other states to follow, demonstrated through Friday’s teacher walkout in Arizona. One can only hope that protests like these can continue across the country, giving the underrepresented a voice to fight for what is right.

Sources: NY Times, Huffington Post, CBS, CNN, US News, PBS