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Oklahoma teachers follow West Virginia with April strike threat

Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The Oklahoma Education Association will shut down schools statewide starting April 2 unless the Legislature increases school funding, the union announced Thursday.

"Teachers and support professionals of Oklahoma are angry and frustrated with the Legislature for not doing its job," the union's president Alicia Priest said in an emailed statement. "We have tried several different paths to improve education funding, but none have worked." Priest said Monday that teachers there have been emboldened by the example of West Virginia, where a nine-day teacher strike has secured a 5 percent raise for all state workers.

The union may also have been acknowledging threats by rank-and-file members to engage in a wildcat strike -- also emulating West Virginia -- if the leadership wasn't sufficiently aggressive.

Teachers in Oklahoma are the nation's lowest paid, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. "Oklahoma teachers are already walking out -- across state lines for better pay," state Sen. John Sparks, the Democratic minority leader, said in a statement Tuesday. Republican majority floor leader Greg Treat said the same day that "teachers deserve a pay raise," and accused Democrats of obstructing efforts to pass one. Democrats contend Treat's party has driven the state close to insolvency with tax cuts.

Because April 2 is the date students are slated to take tests required to secure federal funds, planning a strike for that day gives teachers additional leverage, said teacher Alberto Morejon, who started a Facebook group last week, focused on discussing a potential walkout. The group has drawn tens of thousands of members. "It puts more pressure on them to get something passed."

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