Don't Look Now but the West Virginia Teacher Strike Is Spreading
What is happening in West Virginia may not necessarily stay in West Virginia.
As thousands of teachers in the state occupied the state house on the eighth day of a walkout that has closed every public school in West Virginia, momentum is gathering among teachers in Oklahoma for a potential strike to protest their low pay and high healthcare costs.
A Change.org petition has gathered more than 25,000 signatures of teachers and supporters who object to the state's low teacher salaries—the lowest average pay for educators in the nation, at $42,460—with hundreds of signatures being added on Monday.
Talk of a potential strike grew last month after a proposal called Step Up Oklahoma was defeated in the state House of Representatives. The plan would have raised taxes on the oil and gas industry as well as cigarettes, fuel, and wind energy, in order to give the state's teachers a $5,000 raise."Oklahoma needs new teachers, Oklahoma needs to retain current teachers," reads the petition. "Teachers in Oklahoma need a raise of $10,000 per year to be competetive regionally. Our neighbor states are paying much more and luring away our best talent."
A teacher from the city of Stillwater, Okla., started a Facebook page called "Oklahoma Teacher Walkout—The Time Is Now!" last week, gaining more than 38,000 members in a matter of days.
"A walkout would be the last resort, but we want more money for education in the state, that means more money for supplies, more staff, and pay raises so teachers will stay," the group's leader, Alberto Morejon, told the Huffington Post. "Teachers are leaving left and right, we're the lowest paid in the country."
Teachers are planning to walk out of their classrooms as early as April 2.
In the local press and on social media, that state's educators have been sharing struggles mirrored by those of West Virginia's teachers, who began their walkout on February 22, demanding a funding solution for the state's public employees insurance program and a salary increase. In both states, teachers have reported the need to take on side jobs in order to make ends meet while districts have lamented the loss of qualified teachers who flee for better pay.
"I know I'm not the only one who has to do this. What are your 'side-gigs?'" wrote one teacher in Morejon's Facebook group, gathering 500 responses within hours.
At a school board meeting in Bartlesville, Okla., last week Superintendent Chuck McCauley shared that 30 school districts are considering a "suspension of schools to support teachers" in the event of a walkout. According to the Tulsa World, about 25 percent of the state's schoolchildren attend school in the districts in question.
"We really are at a tipping point," McCauley told the World. "We are hiring people we wouldn't have even interviewed just a few years ago because there aren't more qualified applicants. Bottom line, that's impacting kids and it's below the standard of what's expected in our community."