The Washington Post writes here about Oklahoma’s abysmal treatment of teachers and a decade of budget cuts. 

Teachers are working second jobs to make ends meet. Some have to resort to food pantries at the church to feed their families. It is amazing that anyone wants to teach in a state that treats teachers so disrespectfully.

“Oklahoma teachers are among the nation’s lowest paid, and ­despite the governor and lawmakers approving a $6,100 raise this week, educators pledge to walk out Monday if their full demands — including restoration of budget cuts — are not met. For a decade, little has been done to address the plight of the state’s teachers. It is a situation that has forced many to take second jobs, rely on food pantries and donate their plasma to pay the bills.

“The revolt in Oklahoma comes amid a wave of teacher protests that have no recent parallel in the United States. In West Virginia, educators stayed out for nine tense days before winning a pay raise. In Arizona, teachers are threatening to strike unless the state gives them a 20 percent salary increase. In Kentucky, educators shut down at least 20 school systems Friday as they converged on the state capitol to protest pension reforms. “Don’t make us go West Virginia on you,” one protester’s sign read.

“Earlier this year, educators in Oklahoma turned heartbroken — and desperate — as the legislature failed to boost their salaries. Then, about 1,000 miles to the east, West Virginia’s teachers walked off the job, and leveraged a 5 percent raise after shutting down schools. Suddenly, whispers about the possibility of a strike in Oklahoma grew to a full-throated roar, even as teachers agonized over whether they should leave their students behind.

“We had been talking about it forever,” said Randi Cowan, a third-grade teacher in Tulsa who earned $33,746 last year and lives in a home built by Habitat for Humanity. “But then somebody else did it and . . . it just ignited our fire.”

“As in West Virginia, educators in Oklahoma have reached a breaking point, fed up with stagnant wages and cuts to education funding. The idea of a walkout began to gain traction in mid-February after a proposed salary increase failed to win enough support among lawmakers. A ­superintendent circulated a petition asking colleagues if they would support a teacher walkout.

“Then a 25-year-old social studies teacher, inspired by what happened in West Virginia, began a Facebook group titled “Oklahoma Teacher Walkout — The Time is Now!” It has ballooned to 70,000 members, including educators from Oklahoma and West Virginia and supportive parents.

“Educators — backed by the state’s teachers unions — demanded a $10,000 raise for themselves and a $5,000 raise for support personnel. They are also asking the state to restore budget cuts and boost spending on schools by $200 million over three years. If they do not get what they want by Monday, teachers in about 140 school districts — including some of the state’s largest — plan to walk off the job.

“In 2016, Oklahoma ranked 49th in teacher pay — lower even than West Virginia, which was 48th. The average compensation package of an Oklahoma teacher was $45,276 a year, according to the National Education Association, a figure that includes a high-priced health plan and other benefits. That’s far less than educators in neighboring states, making it difficult — for many districts, impossible — to find and keep qualified teachers.

“Oklahoma’s 2016 teacher of the year, Shawn Sheehan, decamped for Texas last year, joining many other teachers who sought higher-paying jobs…

“The state’s funding crisis began at least a decade ago when the recession hit, leading lawmakers to take a cleaver to education spending. Even after the state’s economy recovered, long-standing tax cuts and plunging oil prices constrained state revenue and depleted education funding. In this deeply conservative state, lawmakers have resisted raising taxes — and doing so requires a three-quarters majority of the legislature.

Adjusted for inflation, the amount the state spends per student has fallen nearly 30 percent over the past decade, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.”

Thank you, West Virginia teachers for showing the way.

Teachers of Oklahoma, you have our support and admiration!