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Education department reflects on teacher walkout

The Oklahoma teacher walkout ended April 12, causing those in the Education Department at Oklahoma Christian University to analyze the two weeks of protests and legislation passed at the State Capitol.

Assistant Professor of Education Elayne Bowman said professors and students in the department were initially concerned with how a walkout might disrupt student teaching hours. Education majors must spend 12 weeks student teaching during their final semester before becoming eligible to receive their teaching certification and graduate, Bowman said.

“The way it affected students most was anxiety,” Bowman said. “They said, ‘I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do, and now there’s something I have no control over.’ That’s really frustrating to anyone.”

According to Bowman, Assistant Professor of Education Allison Cassady was able to arrange alternative placement for student teachers at Oklahoma Christian Academy (OCA) in Edmond if the walkout were to last longer than one week. After lasting two weeks, Bowman said student teachers had the option of returning to their previous public-school placement or remaining at OCA when public school classes resumed last Monday.

“They had to continue to work with teachers they really had not been with before, but at least they were observing and collecting those hours,” Bowman said.

With no classes to teach, Bowman said many education students went to the state capitol in groups to protest during the first week of the walkout. She said the effort was successful overall, but there are still gaps in the budget, which legislation must address.

“It was a success from the standpoint that we got the folks wearing suits and ties to listen to the people in the trenches,” Bowman said. “Certainly, it’s not everything. I’m a retired Oklahoma teacher, and they didn’t do anything with our retirement. We were asking for just a cost of living adjustment, and the last time I checked, it looked like it was just going to kind of die in action.”

The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) decided to end their participation in the walkout April 12, saying it was clear lawmakers would not budge any further in providing additional education funding.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed two measures during the nine-day teacher strike—a third-party internet sales tax and a bill allowing ball-and-dice games in Oklahoma casinos—raising an additional $50 million dollars earmarked for education.

While classes have resumed statewide, many districts have continued to send small groups of teachers to the State Capitol to protest and meet with legislators. OEA President Alicia Priest said the organization will remain active until funding lost from budget cuts over the past 10 years is fully restored.

“We have created a movement, and there’s no stopping us now,” Priest said. “This fight is not over just because the school bell rings once more and our members walk back into schools.”

Bowman said an increase in education funding and teacher salaries may not immediately reverse a trend of Oklahoma Christian education graduates leaving the state for teaching opportunities elsewhere. She said the state government will have to build trust with educators and commit to properly backing education over a long period of time.

“Even though we have students who come here, a large group of them that get their degree here don’t stay in Oklahoma to teach,” Bowman said. “Maybe that’s because they’ve been in the classroom to see what’s supported them.”

Education funding could be threatened by Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!, a tax-exempt organization attempting to temporarily halt the enactment of the $425 million dollar teacher pay raise package passed March 28. If the organization collects 42,000 signatures, HB1010XX would be put on hold, and Oklahoma voters would vote directly on its fate as a state question in the November 2018 elections.

“We are not against teachers,” Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite! founding member Ronda Vuillemont-Smith said. “We believe there are ways we can do this without further burdening Oklahoma taxpayers.”

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