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From OK to LA: why walkouts for teacher pay matters

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From OK to LA: why walkouts for teacher pay matters

Oklahoma educators, students  and parents in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol during the teacher walkout.

Oklahoma educators, students and parents in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol during the teacher walkout.

Oklahoma educators, students and parents in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol during the teacher walkout.

Oklahoma educators, students and parents in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol during the teacher walkout.

Clayton Hedges, Memorial Staff Writer

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Horace Mann, a pioneer of the modern education system, once labeled education as the “great equalizer.” Mann claimed that cultivating the minds of the younger generation was a way for the underprivileged to earn a more comfortable lifestyle along with the ability to break economical and social boundaries. The importance of the educator is undoubtedly linked to the elevation or lowering of the socio-economic standards of students, regardless of their potential.

Many teachers are paid less than managers at gas stations and this has lead to several strikes throughout the U.S. These states include: Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma. The overall intent of these strikes was not only to increase teacher salary but to increase education spending in order to buy updated textbooks, supplies and hire more teachers to alleviate crowded classrooms.

Because the aforementioned strikes were considered a success, it is easy to see why Los Angeles teachers have finally decided to strike. This isn’t their first one either; almost 30 years ago educators in Los Angeles marched to City Hall asking for a 21 percent raise, this demand wasn’t met but their salary did increase to $28,000 ($61,000 in today’s market). Teachers did this in spite of the fact that the school district mobilized over 1,000 substitutes, undermining any impact the strike would have in the community.

During this period in time, Los Angeles had a dropout rate of over 40 percent along with a high percentage of students living below the poverty line. Currently, Los Angeles has said that a little over 80 percent of their students qualify for free and reduced lunch, however, their dropout rate has decreased drastically. Clearly these teachers are doing their job if more students are graduating, especially since it is an area that has a high concentration of underprivileged students.

Yet their current salary is averaged at $63,000 in comparison, Edmond Public Schools (EPS) in Oklahoma pays teachers an average of roughly $55,000 in a state that has a cost of living that is 70 percent lower than the City of Los Angeles. Still the Los Angeles school district will, once again, refuse to support them by using over 400 substitutes  

The teacher’s union has asked the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) to use the $2 million currently in the bank to: increase teacher salary, provide both a librarian and nurse at every school, hire more counselors along with the additional demand to decrease class size to better help instruction.

LAUSD, however, claims they need the $2 million in order to maintain operations, they also have said that if they fulfill all demands, the district will have to declare bankruptcy.

Educators refuse to believe these claims of low funds as the school district has repeatedly said they are low on funds for years with little evidence to back these claims.

The only true issue with this walkout is that half a million students will be left at home, creating a problem for parents with small children along with potentially putting some students in danger if they decided to wander the crime ridden streets of Los Angeles. Both sides claim that they are working hard to resolve this, however many teachers believe this is the only way to gain a learning environment along with adequate pay.

In Oklahoma, the walkout was necessary to make teachers’ pay competitive with states near it in order to keep educators from leaving; the state provided a $479 million dollar increase in funding and a $6,000 raise for teachers. This extra funding has allowed school districts to reduce class sizes giving educators the freedom to have more personal interactions with students to better understand how to accommodate each learning style.

Participation in the Oklahoma walkout was high with communities banding together in order to bring about a positive change for teachers that have helped to shape their bright futures. From Edmond Memorial High School, over two-thirds of teachers were at the state capitol for more than one day with many communicating with local politicians in order to have a clearer picture of what the budget looked like and what could be taxed to increase education funds.

These extra funds have been felt at EMHS allowing some teachers to go from having 35-plus students in a class to somewhere closer to 27-28 students; this might not seem like a significant change, but it has allowed more room in classrooms making them more comfortable along with the aforementioned freedom it provides educators. Another change that has happened at Memorial that can be attributed to the strike is the addition of more teachers. This means more jobs are provided for the community and it is another way Edmond Public Schools has been able to reduce class sizes.

Support for the Los Angeles educators is strong here at EMHS and no doubt many others in the state of Oklahoma feel similar. At the end of the day, the LAUSD and its educators know that the students’ futures are in their hand and both sides must be willing to compromise in order to improve conditions not just for the teachers, but also for the students.

Contact Clayton Hedges at [email protected]

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Clayton Hedges, Memorial Staff Writer

My name is Clayton Hedges and currently I am a junior at Edmond Memorial High School. This is my first year being a staff member for the Ruff Draft. Although...

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From OK to LA: why walkouts for teacher pay matters