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The Continued Teachers’ Revolt


As was clear during the West Virginia teachers strike, teachers in underfunded and poorly paid states throughout the country are revolting. Dana Goldstein has a good story on Oklahoma, where teachers are threatening to strike because they really have nothing to lose.

When she woke up one morning last week, Tiffany Bell, a teacher at Hamilton Elementary School here, had $35 in her bank account.

On take-home pay of $2,200 per month, she supports her husband, a veteran who went back to school, and their three children, all of whom qualify for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal benefit for low-income families. The couple’s 4-year-old twins attend a Head Start preschool — another antipoverty program.

Money is so tight for Ms. Bell, 26, that she had to think twice before spending $15 on Oreos for a class project, in which her third graders removed differing amounts of icing to display the phases of the moon.

She knew it would be hard to support a family on a teacher’s salary. “But not this hard,” she said.

What does Tiffany Bell have to lose by going on strike? Her job? Who is going to take it? Who is going to teach in Oklahoma for $2,200 in take home a month? No one from outside of Oklahoma and presumably not too many qualified people in Oklahoma.

In fact, things are so bad that a name I hoped I would never hear again is on the right side:

Deborah Gist, who as the hard-charging education commissioner in Rhode Island tried to weaken teachers’ seniority protections and often clashed with their union, is now Tulsa’s schools superintendent and is allied with the Oklahoma union — the Oklahoma Education Association — in a fight for more money.

Dr. Gist said she is unable to attract or retain effective educators because they can earn up to $20,000 more per year by moving to Texas or other neighboring states. Because so few licensed teachers are applying for jobs, Tulsa has relied on emergency certifications to hire more than 100 teachers who lack training in education.

“Our teachers in Oklahoma are going above and beyond every single day for an unacceptable and unsustainable salary that doesn’t even provide them with a living wage,” she said.

Gist was horrific in Rhode Island. But that’s how bad it is in Oklahoma. It’s so bad that a lot of school districts have gone to 4 long days for the school week to save operating expenditures on Friday. This is not a tenable situation. Like in West Virginia, the politics of Oklahoma make it very difficult to pass progressive funding legislation, between the right-wing voters, utter wingnut legislature, and the super-majority required for tax increases.

This is why the Oklahoma teachers are probably going to strike on April 2. Yet it’s also why they are likely to be successful. Despite all of this, teachers are politically popular. At least some people do see just how terrible education is in Oklahoma and are concerned about this. This strike wouldn’t even be against the teachers’ bosses. People like Gist are on board. It’s a strike in favor of basic dignity on the job.

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