Teacher walk­out: Did it work?

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - BY DALE DENWALT Capi­tol Bureau dden­walt@oklahoman.com

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

cam­paign sea­son.

“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.”

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