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Tyler Outlaw

Teachers Strike in Oklahoma and Kentucky, Is Arizona Next?

Teachers are fed up with being underpaid and their schools underfunded as more educators join the fight

Brian Young's picture
Apr 03, 2018

Thousands of teachers continued their strike on Tuesday, marking the second day that many schools were closed across the state. Instead, teachers flooded to Oklahoma City to demand high wages and more school funding.

Many school districts in Oklahoma decided to close in support of the teachers. Unlike some other strikes, this one is about more than just wages. Teachers in the state say that they are being asked to teach with materials that are literally falling apart. They took to Twitter to post pictures of textbooks that are disintegrating before your eyes, history books that say George W. Bush is still President, and desks that are unfit for children to be sitting in all day.

Over the last few years, Oklahoma has refused to increase funding for education. In the last decade, the state is spending about $200 less per student. This lack of funding has caused many local school districts to support the action, closing about 200 of the states 500 school districts. Closed districts include the ones in the states largest cities of Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Edmond.

Oklahoma isn’t the only state dealing with angry teachers. In Kentucky, teachers closed school on Friday as they protested a plan by the state legislature to take away their pensions and replace them with a 401(k) plan. Since teachers in the state are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits, this plan would take away any guaranteed retirement savings. Even after the plan passed both houses of the legislature and teachers went on their Easter break, the protests have continued as the educators make a last-ditch effort to pressure Governor Matt Bevins into vetoing the bill.

After teachers in West Virginia won their two-week strike, educators across the country, especially in Right to Work states, are fired up and ready to fight in a way that hasn’t been seen in decades. The movement has also been much more grassroots than previous job actions. Teachers are using Facebook to organize massive rallies and pass along important information to get buy-in from parents and school boards.

The movement is also spreading. Teachers in Arizona are now talking about a strike. Last week thousands held a rally in Phoenix to demand a 20% raise and a restoration of school funding to 2008 levels. Like Oklahoma, the state used the economic recession to slash funding for education. Governor Doug Ducey has decided to hold firm saying that he will only support a 1% raise. "I don't think our ask is ridiculous," Noah Karvelis, a teacher, and Arizona Educators United organizer said. "We're just asking for what makes us competitive with other states in the region."

Like Oklahoma, the movement in Arizona is coming from grassroots teachers. Groups like Arizona Educators United have led the fight while the state teacher’s union has decided to take a backseat. This doesn’t mean that they are sitting out, but instead, they are lending institutional support, like money and legal help, while the grassroots group is the public face of the strike.  

Many who are taking part in the strikes and protest are not members of the union. In Right to Work states, mandatory dues are illegal even though the union is required to represent all educators within the bargaining unit. With teachers beginning to see the impact that weakened unions are having on their paychecks, they have finally decided to unify together and fight back.

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