The Journal Record
The Oklahoma Education Association ended its walkout Thursday afternoon
OKLAHOMA CITY – Hours after top lawmakers lamented mixed messages and moving goal posts, the Oklahoma Education Association announced an end to its walkout.
The organization’s president, Alicia Priest, said executives polled members and 70 percent of participants responded that they weren’t sure that continuing the walkout would hasten the results they sought.
“We are in this for the long haul, and now it’s time to shift our focus,” she said. “The walkout is ending today.”
She said the organization would focus on advocacy for the rest of the legislative session as well as elections. Candidate filing ends Friday night. Priest also said that although OEA’s official participation is ending, several districts have already closed for Friday, and many teachers might continue walking out then and beyond.
Since April 2, tens of thousands of Oklahoma teachers and education supporters have packed into the Capitol and blanketed its lawns to rally for more funding. Dozens of the state’s largest districts closed their schools. Snow days covered only the first week. Some organizations, such as a faction of Tulsa educators including Superintendent Deborah Gist, marched 100 miles to the Capitol to demonstrate along the way.
Despite the constant chanting, the countless visits with members and compelling speeches, not much changed. The week before the walkout, lawmakers passed a massive tax package for the first time since 1990. It paid for teacher salary increases of $6,100, on average, and restored several line items in the budget, such as the $33 million allotment for textbooks. The increase in education funding, adjusted for inflation, surpassed that of 2009, before the recession and other forces spurred a decade of cuts.
Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat said early Thursday that the Legislature had no intention of adjusting the education budget it adopted in March. He said that he and other members have been meeting with teachers for nearly two weeks and that he personally had been in talks with OEA executives for days. He said that it seemed impossible to nail down what the demands really were because they had changed several times since early March when the walkout warnings began.
“I think it’s time to get back in the classroom,” he said.