Teacher Rebellion Spreads to Oklahoma and Kentucky in Push for Fair Wages

A rebellion is sweeping across the United States as teachers take a stand for better working conditions. The latest states to join the movement are Kentucky and Oklahoma, where teachers went on strike on Monday.

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that teachers are saying “enough” in the midst of another education movement that’s taking the nation by storm, as student organizers campaign on gun violence and push for safer schools.

In Oklahoma, where teacher pay approaches the worst in the nation — an average of about $45,000 annually, slightly above Mississippi and South Dakota – teachers aren’t just concerned about their pay. They’re also worried about cuts to education funding that they say have compromised the quality of education available to Oklahoma students.

While the media is filled with headlines like “Teachers across Oklahoma to strike Monday despite 6K pay raise,” the real story is more complicated.

Oklahoma teaches are asking for three things: a $10,000 across-the-board raise; $5,000 raises for other school personnel; and $200 million in education funding. They say the static rate of their wages has become intolerable — by way of illustration, the national average pay for teachers is $58,000.

Oklahoma teachers are selling plasma, driving for Uber and cutting lawns to make a living. But they’re also really concerned about issues like gyms with leaking roofs, outdated textbooks, limited access to school supplies and other challenges that impact both teachers and students.

And they insist that it’s time for the state to invest in education.

In response to these demands, the state legislature voted to approve a $6,100 raise for teachers, falling short of their request. Legislators also allocated some funds to education. But teachers say it’s not enough, noting that the legislature also cut taxes that generate revenues for schools.

That’s why they opted to show up at the legislature instead of the classroom, although one teacher actually brought the classroom to the legislature and taught AP Literature on the lawn.

One group of strike supporters may come as a surprise: school boards and other administration officials – the people you’d usually expect to see opposing labor actions like this.

These officials are empowering teachers, educating parents and working within their districts to minimize disruption while supporting the strike. Their work has included setting up childcare to ease the burden on working parents, and offering meals for low-income children who might otherwise miss a meal when school is closed.

In Kentucky, teachers also closed down schools across the state as they flooded the state capitol to oppose changes to their pension plan. The legislature claims that the changes, which cut benefits for new teachers, were necessary in order to address funding problems with the pension plan.

Arizona teachers are also calling for pay increases. In a movement they’re calling #RedforEd, teachers are asking for 20 percent more income and increased education funding.

This advocacy work in a number of red states may, in a sense, be a reckoning: These states have historically underpaid teachers, and now they’re paying a high price for it.

While some are being criticized for raises that sound “high” — like a 20 percent increase — many were underpaid before their wages went stagnant, and the cost of providing educational services is on the rise. It’s an especially big problem for entry-level teachers, who can make as little as $30,000 annually. These funds aren’t enough to survive on in many communities, and that reality is understandably encouraging some teachers to apply for positions in other states where the pay is better.

Photo credit: Sara

40 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

Thank you

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Ann B
Ann B7 months ago

today they cant get teachers or subs???wonder why---view the news EVERYDAY--i was a teacher and got out....now glad i did ..they deserve better pay////look at what the politicians get paid for doing nothing???

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LF F
LF F7 months ago

Remember the area and cost of living is probably considered in that state and county. Also the fact that the teachers work contract is 182 to 187 days a year instead of year-round as other jobs do. Perhaps, if school was run all year this would resolve some of the salary issue?

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heather g
heather g7 months ago

Teachers have a life-long influence on their students, have a huge responsibility and do much of the childrens' education not undertaken in the home.

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Winn A
Winn A7 months ago

ALL teachers should be paid more and ALL teachers should get hazard pay too.

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Winn A
Winn A7 months ago

Now if you're a teacher you may have to lay your life on the line each and every day you teach at school.

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Anne M
Anne Moran7 months ago

Teachers are underpaid, and they get no respect... - Sometimes you gotta do, what you gotta do...

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Roberta G
Roberta G7 months ago

RK R ...Your profile claims "your cause is education". Don't you think you should live up to your words? And perhaps you should learn about your so-called cause. Teachers may not work 12 months out of the year, but they usually have 10 hour work days, and often obligatory Saturday and evening activities. Who do you think grades papers, essays, etc, after the school work day is over? And as far as summers go, many teachers are attending college during the summer to upgrade their knowledge and teaching credentials. Also, in the past, teachers were supported by parents and the public. As you so aptly illustrate, that is no longer true. If, as you claim, education is your cause, try working to advance it, not against it.

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Alea C
Alea C7 months ago

Noted.

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Joan E
Joan E7 months ago

Go teachers.

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