Teacher strikes have roiled Trump country. It began in West Virginia at the end of February, and this week teachers plan to walk out in Kentucky and Oklahoma. They demand pay increases, but it's not just that. This one tweet about the Oklahoma teacher strike shows that education funding and the quality of education is also on the line.
Oklahoma's strike began on Monday morning, when teachers headed to the state capital bearing signs reading Dr. Seuss quotes, jokes from Disney's Frozen, and slogans showing how important the job of teachers is. "If you can read this, thank a teacher," one sign read.
So far, the focus has mostly been on teacher pay and how the legislature passed a $6,100 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers last week. "Oklahoma Teachers Just Got a $6,100 Pay Raise. They're Going to Strike Anyway," read a TIME headline.
But as Kat Randolph, a vocal music education student at the University of Oklahoma, tweeted, it's about much more than that. Randolph passionately explained what she thinks is really going on:
Oklahoma teachers just got a $6,100 pay raise. They’re going to strike anyways because IT’S NOT ABOUT PERSONAL PAY RAISES ITS ABOUT THE COMPLETE LACK OF STUDENT FUNDING AND THE LACK OF DESIRE THIS STATE SEEMS TO HAVE TOWARDS EDUCATING OUR CHILDREN.
Randolph tells Bustle that Oklahoma's per-student spending is the real problem. "Teachers and pre-service educators are striking because we have one of the lowest per-student spending in the US, and we’re facing huge budget cuts each school year," Randolph tells Bustle.
The state of Oklahoma has seen its per-pupil state general fund spending fall by nearly 30 percent over the last decade, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported. The Washington Post reported that spending was cut when the 2008 Great Recession hit, and spending was never restored. Low oil prices haven't helped matters either.
Even though Randolph isn't a teacher yet, she says it's important for everyone to support the strike. "You’re helping support updated technology, well-maintained buildings, and updated supplies so the Oklahoma students have the best quality education available to them," Randolph tells Bustle.
Some school districts are supporting the striking teachers, but others are not. Some already had Monday off school following the Easter holiday, which is allowing some 30,000 Oklahoma teachers to make it to the state capital and protest. The Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest told The Oklahoman that about 200 districts are closed for the day, and may not be opening for the rest of the week.
Gov. Mary Fallin has touted the pay raise as sufficient, noting it's the "largest teacher pay raise in the history of the state." But the teachers' union isn't satisfied. "While this is major progress, this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect. There is still work to do to get this legislature to invest more in our classrooms. And that work will continue Monday, when educators descend on the capitol," Priest said in a Facebook video.
As for Randolph and other young teachers-to-be like herself, the pay and funding of other nearby states sound more attractive. In Texas, the starting teacher salary is nearly $10,000 higher than in Oklahoma, according to figures from the National Education Association. The average teacher salary in Oklahoma is the lowest in the country by some counts.
"The Young teachers and pre-service educators like myself are being drawn away from Oklahoma by a sustainable income and well-funded classrooms," Randolph tells Bustle.
Randolph hopes the strike is a success, empowering future teachers like herself to serve the state's students. "Our students in Oklahoma deserve better! They deserve certified teachers who want to be here and change their lives. That’s what this walkout is for!"