Oklahoma teachers fight for funding and the future
TNE Editor
/ Categories: Feature, Local

Oklahoma teachers fight for funding and the future

Published 4/9/18

Tori Dodson

TNE Writer

Thousands of Oklahoma educators are continuing their walkout and crowding the state Capitol for a sixth day. Teachers are not letting up when it comes to more money for education.

Last month, state legislators increased teacher pay by an average of $6,100 and granted public schools with an additional $51 million in funding.  Gov. Mary Fallin was anticipating a “thank you,” but that has not been the case. 

“Any change they get now will be the only change for a long time to come,” said Jim Ferrell, NSU Educational Leadership chair. “For that reason, I personally think they need to continue to force the legislature to do more.  I fear the walkout will be viewed by some as negative if the legislators make it appear they are in favor of supporting education, but this state's government leaders have shown they are no friend to public education. I do not see anything else coming soon if we settle for less.”

Considering that Oklahoma ranks next to last in the nation for teacher pay, educators are not willing to back down. Brandy Whitmire, NSU graduate and first-year teacher, stood alongside fellow colleagues at the Capitol last week and expressed her frustrations with a sign that read, “Teaching made your job possible.”  

“My colleagues and I are taking it one day at a time,” said Whitmire. “We have made progress, but it isn’t enough. I think most people forget why we became teachers in the first place. We advocate for children. They

are our first priority, and they have been neglected by the state for far too long.”

Whitmire graduated from NSU in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and started teaching at Grand View Elementary School soon after. She said the strike will continue until the state increases funding for basic needs such as textbooks, supplies, chairs and desks.

"For me, the walkout was never about a raise,” said Whitmire. “As I mentioned, I am a first-year teacher, and the fact that I am now actually getting a paycheck immensely helps my family. I’m walking for my students. They deserve reading material, math manipulatives, comfortable seating and smaller class sizes so they can have more interaction with their teacher. All of this would improve their education.”

Hillary Arnold, NSU Media Studies graduate, also visited the Capitol this week. Like Whitmire, Arnold has a love for children and is a first-year teacher at Woodall Elementary School. However, Arnold mentioned the lack of funding for Oklahoma public schools almost halted her aspiration to be an educator.

“So, I actually was an early childhood major when I first came to NSU but switched my junior year to public relations and advertisement,” said Arnold. “I have always loved children and wanted to have an impact on them, but I let peer pressure from others change my mind about teaching in Oklahoma. I got emergency certified to teach this year and it has been amazing.”

Ferrell said that he has witnessed a drastic difference in the education program at NSU. He stated that the number of students entering the program has practically cut in half.

 “I have seen some students who completed their undergraduate or their master's degree move to Texas or Arkansas because they can make so much more money there than they can in Oklahoma,” said Ferrell. “I sat in a board meeting last year in Texas where the board approved starting teacher pay of over $51,000, that is $20,000 more than the same teacher would make in Oklahoma.”

Ferrell believes that the Oklahoma legislature has created a mess and that it will take years to recover, maybe even a generation.

“The amount of skills and knowledge already lost to other states due to the situation is most likely irreplaceable, and that means the children, and ultimately the state, has lost,” said Ferrell.

To join the conversation, visit the Oklahoma Education Association at http://okea.org/.

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