By Chelsea Weeks, News Editor (Photo by Jacob Factor/The Bison)
As classrooms buzz with energy and students return to their desks, changes are still taking place at the Oklahoma State Capitol regarding funding for the education system.
For 10 days, from April 2 through April 12, teachers and administrators flooded the Oklahoma State Capitol with demands for more funding.
The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) sought after a $10,000 pay raise for teachers, a $5,000 pay raise for education support professionals, an increase in funding and a variety of other benefits.
A variety of bills were passed but failed to meet the demands of the OEA. Some of the bills passed included House Bill 3705, House Bill 1019XX, House Bill 3375 and several others.
With the walkout over and the new bills passed, the changes that occurred have made an impact within the field of education.
Ashley Gillett, an OBU graduate and eighth-grade language arts teacher at Tecumseh Middle School, was able to attend the Teacher Walkout for three days and said those three days were beyond anything she could imagine.
“To see teachers united not only with fellow educators but parents and children was amazing to see,” Gillett said.
Although Gillett learned much during her time at the capitol, she is unhappy with the end results.
“Even though we have support from most communities within Oklahoma and many outside of the state, our local government does not seem to offer the same support,” Gillett said.
“Yes, we did receive a raise until someone tries to take away its revenue, which is already in the works, but that was not our goal. Our goal was to receive funding for our students.”
Dr. Pam Robinson, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said that the results were a good start.
“The raise for teachers was significant,” Robinson said. “However, just as important
was the request for classroom funding which did not come to pass. I do think the walkout was necessary. That is a sad statement to make, but I don’t think anything would have changed had the walkout not occurred.”
As an educator for over 40 years, Dr. Terry James, Chair & Director of teacher education, watched the Teacher Walkout with great interest. He said he truly believes it was a historical event.
“The bottom line is that I don’t think the pay raise and the funding going into operations for the schools would have happened without the walkout, and for that I give OEA and teacher leaders an ‘A’ for creating a synergy of enthusiasm, energy, commitment and even anger to a level that moved the legislature to action,” James said.
Dr. Kaine Ezell, assistant professor of English, sees the silver lining of the teacher walkout as the awareness that has been made and the change in political action. However, he does not agree with the results.
“For the walkout to end without resolving the larger funding issues cannot be taken as anything other than a loss for the teachers, and consequently our students, in my opinion,” Ezell said. “The members of state congress did not see a risk in failing to meet the state’s education needs, but they did see a risk in raising taxes or modifying government spending.”
According to House Bill 1010XX the fund will go into a General Fund, which has raised questions about the intentions of the money.
“Questions regarding the stability of the funding are valid and the funding will have to be monitored, which it will be by administrators and teachers,” James said.
“Some of the funding is available only for this year and a new source of revenue for future years will have to be identified. I am confident the funding will be utilized as intended.”
Regardless of the result, one thing that the Teacher Walkout influenced is the stance on voting. A large number of educators have not only registered to vote, but also filed for office.
“I never thought that what I had to say would make enough of an impact in the voting polls, but I see now that I was wrong,” Gillet said.
Teachers are waiting patiently for November to come so they can voice their opinion in the polls.
“For any progress to be further made for support for student and for other services, such as those for DHS, which directly support the work of the schools, legislators are going to have to know that there is a powerful constituency out there who will voice their priorities at the polls,” James said.