Source: In These Times
Oklahoma teachers proudly marked themselves absent from school since Monday, and they had an excellent excuse: They made themselves present in politics instead, with a historic march on the Capitol in hopes of finally capturing the legislature’s undivided attention
Lawmakers thought they could eke through another austerity budget with the last-minute addition of a $6,100 wage hike. But an estimated 30,000 educators stopped work starting Monday to force some 200 schools to shutter, in order to send the message to elected representatives that their gesture is insufficient. The planned raise paled against teachers’ demands for a fully funded school budget, as part of a $3.3 billion package to restore massive cutbacks across state agencies, as well as the basic dignity of a living wage for all state workers.
Following a decade of bruising austerity, the numbers still don’t add up for Oklahoma schools. They lead the nation in annual budget cuts, and rank 45th in funding equity levels and 46th in academic performance, according to recent national rankings. With pay scales for teachers statewide frozen since the recession, salaries have declined in real terms to rank near dead last in the country.
Cathy Benge, a library media specialist at Longfellow Middle School in Enid, calculates the average age of a book in her library’s collection is 40, while many textbooks are 10 to 12 years old. This leaves her middle schoolers with crumbling textbooks about as old as they are. “Our services are being cut to the core,” she said.