Oklahoma’s striking teachers are intoxicated by their own demands
BY FREDERICK M. HESS, GRANT ADDISON, American Enterprise Institute
Oklahoma’s teachers have just completed the first week of a statewide “walkout,” with no resolution in sight. (It’s a “walkout,” not a “strike,” as public-employee strikes are illegal in Oklahoma.)
Ironically, the state’s teachers had won much of what they wanted before the walkout even began. On Friday, March 23, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state’s largest teachers union, issued an ambitious list of demands: a $10,000 pay raise for teachers; $5,000 raise for school-support personnel; $200 million over three years in additional local-school funding; a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees; and $500 million over three years to “fully staff state agencies” and raise state employee pay by $7,500 a year. In OEA’s estimation, this total package would cost more than $1.4 billion over three years.
In response, on Thursday, March 29 the Oklahoma legislature enacted a new teacher-pay scale that boosted average teacher pay by $6,100 — or 16 percent. This represented a remarkable win for teachers: In 2016, Oklahoma’s average teacher salary of $45,276 ranked 49th nationally, according to the National Education Association (NEA). The raise was funded via new taxes on gas, tobacco, and oil production, along with a new limit on income-tax deductions.
Yet, teachers were not placated — and on Monday, April 2, they started the walkout. The next day, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a $2.9 billion appropriations bill for education funding in fiscal year 2019 — a 19.7 percent boost in spending over the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The legislation includes $353.5 million for teacher pay (funding the $6,100 average raise); $52 million for support personnel pay; $50 million for textbooks and general state aid; and $24.7 million for health-care benefits. Fallin signed additional legislation providing a $1,250 annual pay bump for school-support personnel and tiered raises for state employees ranging from $750 to $2,000.