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Inspired by a historic strike in West Virgnia, educators are demanding better pay and more funding for schools, says Tulsa teacher Taylor Painter-Wolfe

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JAISAL NOOR: Oklahoma teachers are back on the picket lines for a second straight day and bringing their protest for better pay and more funding for schools inside the state capitol. More than 30000 educators walked out on Monday, marching on the Capitol and forcing classes to be canceled for an estimated half a million public school students, some of whom showed their solidarity by joining the teachers for outdoor classes.

STUDENT: We wanted legislators and also the rest of Oklahoma to see what we do in the classroom and how important it is what we do, and what our teachers do.

JAISAL NOOR: Oklahoma ranks near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to teacher salaries. They’re demanding $10000 and $200 million in school funding. The Oklahoma strike is part of a wave of similar actions by teachers in several states, protests which show no signs of slowing down.

We’re now joined on the phone by Taylor Painter-Wolf, public school teacher in Oklahoma who is speaking to us from just outside of the Capitol. Thank you so much for joining us.


JAISAL NOOR: So can you tell us what the mood was today in the Capitol? We know that for a second straight day thousands of teachers demanded, you know, descended on the Capitol and are demanding more more funding for schools and a bigger increase in salaries than what the governor has said she’s willing to provide this year. Talk about what your response is.

TAYLOR PAINTER-WOLF: There are a lot of people here today. I think the estimate yesterday was at least 30000, and some people have been saying that there’s more people here today than than even yesterday.

And I would say that the the mood today is probably more maybe even more determined and more definitely more, more boisterous today. Lots of, lots of chanting, lots of awesome signs, lots of encouragement from the union and other, other unions across the state. And public, state workers as well. And so people are trying to get in and talk to their legislators and just telling them that what they’ve what they’ve come up with so far is not is not going to cut it. And the whole time we were in the building today, I spent a long time outside of the building, and then waiting to get into the building. But there were people making announcements. Union members making announcements and saying that districts that were announcing that they would be closed tomorrow and closed indefinitely, closed for the rest of the week and everyone was cheering and stuff. So yeah, the districts are, the superintendents, by and large, are are on board for this.

JAISAL NOOR: Oklahoma is a right to work state. What kind of impact has that had on this organizing effort? And you know, you talked about union support, but talk about what role the rank and file has played in making these actions happen.

TAYLOR PAINTER-WOLF: It started with a Facebook group that a teacher started. And I forget his name, but that group is Oklahoma Teacher Walkout: The Time is Now. And I think it’s up to, like, 75000 members now, and gained lots of members very quickly, lots of momentum.

So it kind of started there, with teachers saying, you know, we can’t, we can’t take it anymore, because this was, after all these failed plans. We spent over a year now waiting on plans to be passed, various plans that have come through the House. Mostly the House because that’s where those revenue raising measures have to start. And that involves teacher pay raise, and they fail and they fail and they fail. And there was even a special session. The governor called a special session and she called another special session. And then most recently there was a plan called the STEP UP plan that failed. And then after that everybody was kind of, I think just, it was, like, the last straw.

So then the, the union then got on board with the walkout.

JAISAL NOOR: Talk about what the underfunding of education means for teachers like yourself and for your students. You know, Oklahoma is one of the worst-funded school systems in the country. And you know, we saw that in West Virginia, you know, underfunding inspired teachers to strike and to take to picket lines. And even defying their own union at one point, that had reached a deal without their consent. Talk about what that impact is for you and in Tulsa.

TAYLOR PAINTER-WOLF: Mention that, actually. The success of the teachers in West Virginia. And they get paid, you know, more than we do. So seeing that work for them I think was definitely part of the catalyst here as well to, to say, you know, we’ve got to do something in Oklahoma. And if it can work for them it can work for us.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.