Teacher walkout: Did it work?
For two weeks, thousands of Oklahoma teachers got a first-hand look at how their state government works, and lawmakers got a taste of what a motivated electorate can do.
But was it effective? The threat of a teacher walkout began more than a month ago with demands for a teacher pay raise and more funding for public schools. The Oklahoma Education Association’s original proposal would have raised educator salaries by $10,000 and pushed more than $800 million
in new spending toward schools.
They got better than half of that request a few days before the planned walkout on April 2.
Since then, however, the only education funding bills to pass the Legislature were a last-minute amendment to a bill that would earmark roughly $20 million for schools and another measure to raise revenue, some of which automatically goes into the education funding formula.
“The threat of walkout
was more effective,” said state Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie. “It did spur us to action, and therefore the revenue package and education budget were passed before the deadline.”
That deadline was the April 1 education funding deadline, a state law that legislators honored for just the second time ever this year.
Enid Republican state Rep. Chad Caldwell noted that most of the tax hike proposals weren’t new, but had been debated at some point before education funding became the focus of legislative work at the Capitol. He hoped the strike would conclude amicably.
“No one wins when
two sides retreat to those sides and lob grenades back and forth,” said Caldwell. “This isn’t about winning or losing. This is about doing what’s right.”
State Rep. John Montgomery said the walkout was effective in a lot of ways, but recognized the bigger victory that OEA and its members secured before schools closed.
“As it’s continued, I think it’s brought about a better level of civic engagement and discussion,” said Montgomery, R-Lawton.
The OEA announced on Thursday it would immediately end the walkout and instead focus on
“We need to face reality. Despite tens of thousand of people filling the Capitol and spilling out onto the grounds of this Capitol for nine days, we have seen no significant legislative movement since last Friday (April 6),” OEA President Alicia Priest told reporters.
By shifting their political capital to candidates and elections, the education lobby was able to walk away from what they saw as a stalemate and tap into the momentum of candidate filing, which wrapped up Friday. Priest vowed that the advocacy would continue, especially during
campaigns and next year’s legislative session.
“While the walkout has helped us achieve all of our plans’ goals for the first year, we are in this for the long haul and now, it’s time to shift our focus,” Priest said. “We are in a marathon, not a sprint.”
Some lawmakers have publicly shown frustration with the lobbying effort, particularly with the walkout and requests for more funding. Many, however, have shown patience with wave after wave of constituents popping into their Capitol offices.
Griffin said it could be a year before it’s clear whether the walkout had
a positive effect on education policy. She encouraged teachers and parents to remain involved.
“If it was just a few days at the Capitol and no follow-up, I don’t know that it will have been effective,” she said, adding that effective advocacy is built on personal relationships.
“Any constituency group that expects an organization to represent their voice needs to know that’s not the effective way to work with lawmakers,” Griffin said. “Lawmakers care about constituents, and that’s who we want to listen to and that’s who we need to hear from.”