Oklahoma teacher strike called off after 9 days, as teachers’ demands not met

The Oklahoma Teachers Union said there was “no significant legislative movement” this week.

Teachers rest after striking at the state capitol on April 9, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. CREDIT:J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
Teachers rest after striking at the state capitol on April 9, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. CREDIT:J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

After nearly two weeks of strikes, Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest called for an end to the walkout. Although lawmakers passed some bills teachers lobbied for last week, lawmakers still refused to meet all of teacher’s demands. Some teachers have vowed to continue showing up at the capitol in spite of the union’s announcement.

On Thursday, Priest said the union will support teachers whether they return to classrooms or not, but that “We recognize that our formal efforts to lobby elected leaders have achieved all that we will be able to accomplish this legislative session.”

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Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, said, “We are proud of what we have accomplished, but truthfully, there’s no one left to negotiate with in the statehouse.”

On Thursday, the Oklahoma Public Employees Association also announced that state employees will no longer participate in the strikes. OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley said, “Recent discussions focus solely on education funding and exclude public safety, veterans’ services, mental health, protective services, or any other state agency services.”

Teachers secured some wins before the walkout began, with a $6,100 raise on average for teachers and $1,250 for school support staff. The governor also signed a bill to raise education funding by $50 million over the next fiscal year. But teachers said that wasn’t enough.

Teachers did not win the repeal of the capital gains tax exemption that they pushed for this week, which would reportedly would bring in $120 million annually. They also pressured Gov. Mary Fallin (R) to veto a repeal on a tax on hotel and motel stays, which could have brought in additional state funding, but the governor signed the legislation anyway.

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Last week, lawmakers passed legislation to bring in new revenue to schools through the taxation of ball and dice games, which would give the state an estimated $22 million, and the collection of sales taxes from online retailers, which provides $20 million to the education budget that already passed.

Several major school districts remained closed on Friday, however, including Oklahoma City Public Schools. School districts and individual schools made more than 30 announcements of walkout-related closures on Friday.

Alberto Morejon, the eighth grade social studies teacher at Stillwater Junior High School who started the Facebook page organizing a walkout that now has almost 80,000 members, wrote that Stillwater teachers will still be at the capitol on Thursday.

“We are asking that every district be at the Capitol tomorrow. If your district is closed, we need everyone at the Capitol! If your district is open, please send your delegates to the Capitol … Remember that we teachers are the voice that started this movement, and we are the voice that ends it,” he wrote.

According to News Channel 4 reporter Lance West, many teachers are angry with the union for calling for an end to the walkout.

Elaine Brown, a teacher at the Capitol, told Fox 25, “I feel like they kind of took the coward way out.”

Renee Jerden, a choir teacher, said she’s running for Oklahoma State Senate in District 24.

“We blame it on the teachers, and we blame it on this and we blame it on that,” Jerden told CNN. “But ultimately the reason that it looks like education is failing right now is because of income inequality.”