Oklahoma teachers end strike with school funding goal unmet

Thousands gathered outside the Oklahoma state Capitol building during the third day of a statewide education walkout on April 4, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
AFP

Chicago (AFP) – Teachers in the Midwestern US state of Oklahoma called off their historic demonstration at the state Capitol Thursday, with their demands for additional public school funding only partially met. 

Tens of thousands of teachers, students and other supporters had rallied in Oklahoma City and swarmed the state Capitol building since April 2. 

The protesters shut down schools across the state and demanded that the Republican-controlled legislature pass funding measures to restore a decade worth of public school budget cuts. 

The funding demands were in addition to a recently-approved average salary increase of $6,100, causing some Republican lawmakers to balk at the teachers’ demands. 

But the teachers argued that while they were grateful for the pay raises, they also needed money for classroom repairs, new supplies and updated textbooks. 

“We were seeking $200 million in additional classroom funding over three years,” Carrie Jacobs of the Oklahoma Education Association, the teachers’ union, told AFP. 

The state legislature only approved a fraction of that funding demand and teachers made no further progress since last Friday.  

“Our goal for this year was $75 million, and we ended up with $70 million this year and $22 million additional next year,” Jacobs said. 

The union’s president Alicia Priest acknowledged that teachers fell short of their total goal, but declared victory and promised to hold legislators accountable at the ballot box during the midterm elections this year. 

“We must support candidates who have helped us achieve our goals and vote out those who have not,” Priest said. 

A record 582 people, including teachers, have filed for their candidacy to run for elected office since the strike began, she said. 

The demonstrations over the last two weeks brought attention to dire conditions in some Oklahoma public schools — left to wither in disrepair and lacking basic supplies. 

They also shined a spotlight on low teacher pay that forced some educators to take on extra jobs such as daycare and lawn mowing. 

The Oklahoma protest follows similar teacher revolts in West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona — all Republican-dominated states.

West Virginia teachers got their first pay raise in four years last month after a nine-day strike. 

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