Teachers granted leave by their school districts to lobby the Oklahoma Legislature were at the Capitol Tuesday along with union officials as they point efforts toward November elections.
“We are here to reconnect the disconnect between Legislators and education that we witnessed here over the last two weeks of the walkout,” said Emily Busey, an eighth-grade US History teacher at Central middle school in Edmond Public Schools.
She was with two other teachers from the same building dressed professionally and wearing their school name tags.
The blunt instrument of a two-week teacher walkout that brought 20,000 to 50,000 teachers, students, parents and other supporters to the Capitol daily was over Thursday.
Now, smaller groups of teachers and union leaders are putting a much finer point on reaching out to Legislators.
It was the beginning of the long game looking to the November elections.
Some districts now are negotiating union leave for rotating groups of teachers to go to the Capitol and lobby legislators
“I have a son who is three years old right now and getting ready to go to school,” said Hilary Chapman who teaches ISS at Central.
“I want to make sure he has a great future ahead of him. As a teacher, I want education to be equitable.”
Carrie Clark, a sixth-grade science teacher at the same school, said she wanted to get to learn more about her representatives and senators.
“This is work that is going to take years to bring about any lasting change,” she said.
It was a far more patient but no less determined approach than the chanting, fist-pumping throngs that brought the Capitol to its fire code capacity every morning for two weeks.
Remember in November
“We will remember in November. We’re not going to forget who our friends are and we won’t forget who say they’re our friends but won’t lift a finger to help us,” Ed Allen told Free Press.
Allen is the president of the Oklahoma City local of the American Federation of Teachers, the bargaining agent for teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
He was in the building helping about 50 teachers from OKCPS as they transition into long-term lobbying efforts.
“We negotiated for the district to allow union leave for about 50 teachers per school day over a two-week period to come out here and continue the effort,” said Allen.
He said the biggest issue still is funding.
“We probably have another billion dollars to go before we get back to where we were before all of the funding cuts,” he said.
“In order to attain that we have to have a very good plan that our members can see. They need to feel it, taste it and know that this isn’t a one and done.”
Activated and engaged
Free Press talked by phone Tuesday with Alicia Priest, Oklahoma Education Association president about what the teachers’ association wants to do next after she effectively ended the walkout Thursday by announcing the OEA’s contribution to the walkout was over.
In the news conference that day, Priest said that the next phase was to look to the November elections where they hope to elect new Legislators who see the needs of education in Oklahoma.
“We are activated and engaged for campaigns,” said Priest.
“This woke a sleeping giant of public education supporters. It took a while for everyone to understand what our issues are in funding,” Priest said. “So now that the public is informed about the horrible funding that has been enacted over the last decade, there’s no turning back on that.”
“When you know better you do better.”
The OEA is launching plans to working with many partner groups who have the same concerns about education funding in Oklahoma.
But, are they engaging in politics just to help Democrats against the Republican super-majority in the House and Senate? Some critics have leveled that charge.
“Education is not about partisan politics. Education should be about education policy and what’s good for kids,” said Priest.
“You can be Democrat, Republican or Independent and be committed to making sure education is fully funded.”
“I refuse to believe that this is a partisan issue. It is an issue about children.”