Morning Bell: Schools discuss Monday walkout
To walkout or not? That's the question facing many teachers and districts on Monday.
After the Legislature passed $400 million in tax hikes that includes a teacher pay raise (around $6,100 on average), a long-term teachers strike has seemingly been shelved. But the Oklahoma Education Association is still hosting a rally at the state Capitol on Monday.
Many school districts, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Norman, will be closed on Monday.
Edmond Public Schools Superintendent Bret Towne praised teachers for their efforts in getting a pay raise bill passed, but discouraged them from participating in Monday's walkout.
"What I am asking teachers to do is return to work on Monday while sending a significant number of teachers to represent the district at the Capitol; thus allowing Edmond to hold school on April 2," Towne said in a letter. "By having school andsending representatives to the Capitol, we can ensure teachers' voices are being heard, while at the same time meeting the needs of our students."
At an early afternoon news conference hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the chamber's current chairman, Steve Bradshaw, said he would be disappointed if teachers walked out following Wednesday's Senate vote.
"I do think there's been a tremendous amount of success that has been achieved," Bradshaw said.
It's still not clear if the Oklahoma Education Association will push for a walkout past Monday, even though some educators say they are not satisfied with the actions of lawmakers. The OEA had demanded $10,000 raises and more public school funding.
“I think the teachers unions are in a tight spot trying to reconcile the demands from some of their more hardcore members compared to what is attainable from the Legislature,” said David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa think-tank. “There (are) a lot of folks that are going to have difficult decisions to make over the next week, and I don’t know that anybody can really predict what those decisions are going to look like.”
What will a nearly $6,100 teacher pay raise do for Oklahoma's status as one of the worst paying states? Assuming the 2016 averages stayed the same for all other states (which is unlikely: West Virginia and South Dakota notably are among those that have since significantly increased their teacher pay), this raise would make Oklahoma's ranking No. 28 in the country for highest average salary, reports the Tulsa World.
How much per teacher? The state Department of Education has a chart on how much of a raise a teacher can expect, depending on years of experience and education. It's about a $5,000 increase for first year teachers.
OU President David Boren released a statement crediting the tenacity of teachers across the state for a revenue bill funding teacher raises.
"Let's give credit where credit is due: it is thanks to the tenacity of our teachers that this legislation was enacted," Boren said in the statement. "It is my hope that Oklahomans from all walks of life will continue to stand up and demand that the Legislature invest in the future of our state and stop the bleeding of our core services."
Social media advocacy
Although Facebook has been under fire lately for its involvement in a data-harvesting effort that may have influenced the 2016 election, for teachers, the embattled social-media platform has recently proved a lever for democracy, reports Education Week. In right-to-work states where unions don’t have as strong a presence, teachers have used Facebook to rally support and launch grassroots movements for higher pay—and with some success.
Oklahoma colleges awarded fewer degrees last year
Oklahoma's public colleges and universities conferred 692 fewer degrees and career certificates in 2016-17 than the previous academic year.
The 1.9 percent decline occurred despite efforts to increase degree completion to meet workforce demands, according to a report submitted Thursday to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
"Bachelor degrees are still up very slightly, but the net for the whole thing is down a little bit for the first year in a long time," Tony Hutchison said.
This weekend: I'll have a story Sunday on what last week's events in the Legislature mean for a teacher walkout and how teachers are taking the news with a mix of emotions.
Have a great weekend!