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There's a looooong history behind today's teacher walkout in Oklahoma

On Monday, more than 200 schools across Oklahoma were shuttered as hundreds of public school teachers protested the l...

Posted: Apr 2, 2018 8:10 PM
Updated: Apr 2, 2018 8:10 PM

On Monday, more than 200 schools across Oklahoma were shuttered as hundreds of public school teachers protested the lack of education funds allocated by the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin. The walkout, which teachers were pledging could continue for days if their demands for more money for schools were not met, comes less than a week after state legislators passed an emergency pay increase for teachers in hopes of quelling the looming confrontation.

The Oklahoman's Ben Felder has been covering this story since the beginning. (Check out his full guide to the teacher walkout here.) I reached out to him for some context of where we've been and some insight into where we're going next on this story. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow is below.

Cillizza: Walk me through how we got here.

Felder: Educator frustration in Oklahoma has been growing for years as public school funding has not kept pace with student growth. Add in the fact that Oklahoma teachers have some of the lowest average salaries in the nation -- and many districts in neighboring states, like Texas, can offer a substantial raise -- and teachers have been voicing their concerns for years.

There are nearly 2,000 emergency certified teachers in use across the state, when just five years ago the number was below 35. Principals have said that filling some positions has become impossible, especially in rural communities.

Teachers held a massive rally at the state Capitol in 2014, dozens of teachers ran for state office in 2016, and there was an unsuccessful effort two years ago to pass a statewide sales tax to fund a pay raise.

Over the past few months, teachers have increasingly said the only thing left to do was a strike. I definitely think watching what happened in West Virginia inspired many educators to finally pull the trigger.

Cillizza: The state legislature passed a bill last week that increased teacher salaries. So, why are the protests ongoing?

Felder: Last week's pay raise of around $6,000 (on average) will do a lot to change Oklahoma's status as one of the lowest paying for teachers. However, teachers said not enough was done to reverse decades of school funding cuts, which have totaled around $200 million since 2008. The Legislature did approve some textbook funding, but it only increased general school funding by around $18 million.

Teachers at the Capitol on Monday are protesting for more school funding. In fact, I haven't heard much of anything about teacher pay. Teachers say their classrooms are in need of new technology and new furniture. School leaders have had to cut art and music programs, and many schools have lost support staff, which comes out of the general budget.

Cillizza: How much has this issue split on party lines? The state is so Republican it's sort of hard to imagine this happening.

Felder: The wild card in Oklahoma is that for any tax increase to pass in the legislature it requires a three-fourths supermajority. For example, that means 76 "yes" votes in the House. Republicans hold 72 seats, so they need Democrats. Even when a majority of Republicans were willing to raise taxes this year, Democrats took advantage of the little power they have and demanded more.

Last week's vote included bipartisan support but it was still a painful vote for many Republicans. This is an election year and primaries are in June. So you have many Republicans who will have to defend a vote to increase taxes back home. However, I think the majority of Oklahoma voters were at a point where they believed something had to be done. This is still an anti-tax state in many ways, but even the most conservative parts of Oklahoma have been hit hard by school funding cuts, especially in rural communities.

Cillizza: Finish this sentence: "This will resolve itself _______." Now, explain

Felder: "When the Legislature provides a substantial funding increase for public schools."

It's hard to say how much funding it would take to please educators, but my guess is it has to at least be $100 million. Getting the legislature to increase any more taxes will be a tough task, but there are a few proposals on the table, including an end to the capital gains tax deduction and approving ball and dice gaming at casinos.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312712

Reported Deaths: 7223
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21445257
Hinds20264414
Harrison17785308
Rankin13548278
Jackson13401246
Madison10055217
Lee9959173
Jones8361163
Forrest7638152
Lauderdale7191240
Lowndes6361144
Lamar620686
Lafayette6164118
Washington5318133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha460698
Panola4550105
Pearl River4493145
Marshall4393103
Warren4371121
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4089133
Union408876
Neshoba4022176
Lincoln3944110
Hancock376886
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335590
Tate332084
Pike3290105
Scott314973
Alcorn311268
Yazoo310269
Itawamba299277
Copiah296065
Coahoma293979
Simpson293888
Tippah287468
Prentiss278960
Marion268780
Leake265573
Wayne262241
Adams261882
Grenada260085
Covington256281
George246748
Newton246161
Winston226881
Tishomingo225467
Jasper220748
Attala214173
Chickasaw206957
Holmes188672
Clay184654
Stone181833
Clarke177879
Tallahatchie177840
Calhoun169732
Yalobusha162936
Smith162134
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125838
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104626
Claiborne102230
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95328
Franklin83423
Quitman79916
Choctaw76018
Wilkinson66830
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 529446

Reported Deaths: 10930
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763031516
Mobile40850804
Madison34622501
Tuscaloosa25701451
Montgomery24289585
Shelby23367247
Baldwin21035307
Lee15822169
Calhoun14469313
Morgan14266279
Etowah13806352
Marshall12185222
Houston10533280
Elmore10029205
Limestone9948150
Cullman9640193
St. Clair9589239
Lauderdale9407239
DeKalb8814185
Talladega8199175
Walker7214277
Autauga6914108
Jackson6801111
Blount6635136
Colbert6288134
Coffee5498117
Dale4820111
Russell438438
Chilton4258111
Franklin424782
Covington4111117
Tallapoosa4004150
Escambia393076
Chambers3555123
Dallas3543151
Clarke350661
Marion3105100
Pike310177
Lawrence299798
Winston273672
Bibb260463
Marengo249064
Geneva247676
Pickens233659
Barbour230756
Hale222276
Butler215869
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184145
Randolph179241
Monroe177040
Washington167039
Macon158850
Clay155156
Crenshaw151957
Cleburne148341
Lamar141534
Lowndes138553
Wilcox126729
Bullock122941
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa106928
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
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