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: 145636

Reported Deaths: 3745
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto973199
Hinds9668197
Harrison6898109
Jackson6178119
Rankin5319100
Lee487695
Madison4666106
Forrest371386
Jones346788
Lauderdale3355144
Lafayette317549
Washington3122107
Lamar283449
Oktibbeha240861
Bolivar240184
Lowndes229763
Neshoba2177115
Panola215849
Marshall209650
Leflore201490
Pontotoc196128
Monroe191477
Sunflower190555
Lincoln186865
Warren172657
Tate165451
Union163925
Pike160658
Copiah159540
Yazoo152039
Scott150729
Coahoma148743
Itawamba148234
Pearl River146567
Alcorn146327
Simpson145153
Prentiss141230
Adams137949
Grenada137745
Leake131943
Holmes126561
Tippah123030
George122324
Covington119737
Winston119124
Wayne116223
Hancock115939
Marion111646
Attala109833
Tishomingo106542
Chickasaw104132
Newton103629
Tallahatchie96327
Clarke88853
Clay87127
Jasper81222
Walthall75328
Stone73114
Calhoun72913
Montgomery72125
Carroll70614
Lawrence70314
Yalobusha70027
Noxubee69717
Smith69616
Perry65426
Tunica59619
Greene58422
Claiborne57616
Jefferson Davis55017
Humphreys52918
Amite51814
Benton48717
Quitman4816
Webster42114
Kemper41918
Wilkinson38722
Jefferson34211
Franklin3265
Choctaw3117
Sharkey30717
Issaquena1124
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 239318

Reported Deaths: 3532
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson31391491
Mobile19562361
Tuscaloosa12813154
Madison12741146
Montgomery12198235
Shelby1000577
Baldwin847398
Lee764466
Morgan634348
Calhoun6112115
Marshall607954
Etowah606565
Houston517038
DeKalb474736
Cullman428038
Limestone413744
St. Clair409055
Elmore400762
Lauderdale393653
Walker3588108
Talladega343453
Jackson307624
Colbert301941
Blount285539
Autauga268641
Franklin247833
Coffee239715
Dale230354
Dallas224531
Russell22053
Chilton219638
Covington216833
Escambia197431
Chambers173749
Tallapoosa173391
Pike157514
Clarke156319
Marion136535
Winston129923
Lawrence124836
Geneva12028
Pickens119418
Marengo119124
Barbour117010
Bibb116217
Butler114441
Randolph100921
Cherokee100824
Hale94531
Clay90223
Washington90219
Fayette87316
Henry8496
Lowndes79129
Monroe78111
Cleburne75714
Macon72321
Crenshaw70730
Bullock69119
Conecuh68314
Perry6756
Lamar6508
Wilcox63118
Sumter57122
Choctaw41913
Greene41418
Coosa3374
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