Gaylord News is a reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.
Kim Caywood, a high school teacher from Coweta, Oklahoma, did not realize how privileged she was to have lights that worked in her classroom.
Talking to other teachers at the Capitol during last April’s teacher walkout opened her eyes to the problems occurring in certain school districts — especially in smaller districts than Coweta, which is 25 miles southeast of Tulsa.
Although Caywood’s classroom had desks, heat and air conditioning, and textbooks, last year’s teacher walkout revealed to her the severity of Oklahoma’s education needs— many schools could not provide basic needs to contribute to the education of their students. Now, one year after the teacher walkout, Caywood, along with other educators, hope to keep the need for better education alive in the minds of Oklahomans.
Tuesday marks a year since Oklahoma educators walked out of school for nine days to protest low teacher pay and classroom funding.
Caywood said the morale of teachers is better because of the walkout, but she is “still concerned about our staff,” such as secretaries, registrars, custodians and cafeteria workers.
“(Coweta has) lost two or three people last year because the pay is not very good, so they work for a while then they get a better job and then leave,” Caywood said.
Led by the Oklahoma Education Association, or OEA, around 172 districts participated in the strike, demanding a $10,000 pay raise for teachers, a $5,000 pay raise for school support staff and $200 million in public school funding.
They received about one-third of what they asked for, as Oklahoma House Bill 1010 passed four days before the walkout on March 29 and gave teachers a $6,100 raise through an increase on taxes cigarette sales, fuel and lodging, a $1,250 staff raise and a $50 million increase of classroom funding. It was the first state-funded educator raise in 10 years, placing Oklahoma teacher minimum pay second in the region.
Teachers wasted little time exacting a price from those who opposed the raise, as six House members who opposed the raise were defeated in the June 2018 primary. By the time the dust had settled in November, 17 members of OEA’s education caucus had joined the eight caucus members already there.
Chrissy Waldhör, an elementary teacher in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, said she has seen three or four different custodians, who are “just as important to a child as a teacher,” come through her district within the last year alone.
“These people are in contact with students every day,” Waldhör said. “Taking away from that stability takes away from the security feeling that you really want kids to have when they’re in a building.”
Waldhör is involved in the Tahlequah Educators Association, an education advocacy group where teachers volunteer to go to the Capitol to represent educators or discuss issues with legislators in the Tahlequah area every week. The OEA also travels to the Capitol every Tuesday to meet with legislators from their districts to discuss education issues.
Twenty-five legislators make up the Oklahoma education caucus, comprised of current or former educators, including classroom teachers, administrators and counselors. There now are more educators in the legislative body than ever before.
One bill in the 2019 legislative session, H.B. 1780, will give teachers a $1,200 raise, at a cost of $70 million. It was unanimously approved by the House and has been sent to the Senate.
With teacher representation inside legislation and continual pressure by educators, it will be hard to forget the walkout during the 2019 legislative session.
“If teachers don’t stay involved, if we don’t send delegates to the capitol monthly to make our presence known, we are going to be back where we were before,” Caywood said.