Starting on April 2, 2018 and ending on April 12, 2018, tens of thousands of people in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, including teachers, administrators and citizens, participated in a walkout to protest issues that plagued the state’s educational system.
Problems and Purpose
The 2018 Oklahoma Teacher Walkout was in response to state legislators perceived to not be taking education in the state seriously. Oklahoma, a state in the United States, continued to lose teachers to other states because they simply could not earn a living wage even in a low cost-of-living state like Oklahoma . The purposes of the walkout were plentiful, but ultimately the focus was increasing teacher pay and gaining “education funding after school budgets were devastated by a decade of cuts” .
Background History and Context
According to statistics gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2015-2016 school year, Oklahoma public elementary and secondary school teachers were paid an average salary of $46,109 . The next year, they were paid almost $1,000 less. These salaries were substantially below the national averages, which were $59,426 and $58,950, respectively . As of 2014, Oklahoma teachers did not have the legal right to strike, but did have the right to bargain collectively . Teachers in nearby states such as Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas likewise lacked the legal right to strike, and teachers in Texas also had no right to bargain collectively .
Additionally, Oklahoma’s teacher walkout happened to have started about a month after a teacher strike in West Virginia, which ended in a pay raise for teachers . The New York Times reported in February 2018 that the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association organized a walkout, protesting the low pay of their teachers .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The walkout was organized by the Oklahoma Education Association. Additionally, Oklahoma’s Girl Attorney, LLC chapter also participated in the strike.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Although there were primarily teachers, administrators, and students participating in the walkout, other community members, government officials, politicians, as well as state and national advocacy groups joined in. Among them were a couple hundred female attorneys, representing Girl Attorney, LLC, who were wearing all black .
An estimated 40,000 teachers participated, with thousands of others including citizens and students who joined them in the strike . This was likely enabled by Oklahoma Education Association’s use of social media and the publicity it received from numerous media outlets across the state.
Methods and Tools Used
Before the walkout began, a petition circulated on social media, created by Teresa Dank, a third-grade teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma . Although the petition received more than 66,000 signatures, then-Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin did not listen, and thus set the scene for a walkout .
The walkout was a form of strike.
A variety of hand-crafted signs, buttons, bullhorns, platforms, as well as speakers, singing, preaching, were utilized throughout the 10-day walkout period. Seemingly, everyone who was able to attend the walkout did so. They stayed into the evening during each day of the event. Additionally, the Oklahoma Education Association passed out multiple forms of literature during the walkout that strengthened their purpose of advocating for Oklahomans to make an investment in education, not just for their children, but for others as well.
There were a number of demonstrations occurring during the strike, both inside and outside the State Capitol . Inside, the focus was on lobbying legislators to listen and consider the strikers' demands. Social media, as previously stated, was used for many purposes including recruitment, as well as direct and indirect participation.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Toward the end of the 2018 school year, Oklahoma teachers organized and went on strike, right in front of the state capitol building. They, and thousands of others, remained there for 10 days. During the strike, Oklahoma teachers protested low teacher pay and inadequate learning resources in school. Tens of thousands of educators, government officials, citizens, politicians, students, and various national and state advocacy groups, protested at the state’s Capitol in Oklahoma City. Local and national media outlets also attended the event to provide coverage. Participants engaged in non-violent protests and spoke with numerous state legislators, asking them to pass legislation to aid in the state’s education issue.
Shortly before the teacher walkout, Oklahoma Governor Fallin had signed a tax bill that gave teachers a permanent $6,100 raise, the largest in a decade . However, educators were demanding $10,000 pay increases, as well as “$5,000 raises for support professionals, $200 million more in classroom spending, $213 million in other public employee pay increases and $256 million in additional health care spending” . After nearly two weeks on strike and not getting all demands met, the Oklahoma Education Association, the main organizer of the walkout, asked teachers to return to the classroom .
After the walkout was over, the state public education system expected to receive more than $50 million for classrooms, and received additional funding after a bill was enacted that taxed online sellers and legalized ball and dice games in Oklahoma casinos, equating to about $19.6 and $22 million, respectively . Others, including citizens, parents, community leaders, and advocacy groups, played a major role in the organizing and results of the walkout.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
For the most part, the walkout ended with positive outcomes. With the primary focuses of the protests being increasing teacher pay and gaining funding for education, both of those purposes were achieved, but not to the full extent of what was being requested. Teachers received their first pay raise since 2008 . The increase resulted in Oklahoma's becoming the 34th ranked state for teacher salaries, significantly improved from its 49th ranking prior to the pay increases .
Additionally, the teacher walkout provided many educators a reason to get involved at the time of the walkout; it also encouraged participants, particularly teachers, to get involved after as well. Some teachers who participated in the strike subsequently decided to run for public office, including Cody Coonce and Jen Youngberg, who both teach at schools near Tulsa, as well as Madeline Scott, an Oklahoma City elementary school teacher .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
With increasing teacher pay and funding for education being the ultimate goal, state educators, parents, students, and others felt the time to make their voice known, was now . And with others in their corner, it seemed they were right in their timing [1, 3]. By utilizing various means of methods and tools, the main organizer of the walkout, the Oklahoma Education Association, strengthened their purpose and reach [2,3,7]. The protest, which lasted for almost two weeks, ultimately resulted in teachers getting the first raise they’ve received since 2008, as well as additional funding for education [9,10,12]. However, that seems to only be the beginning, as several teachers have been vying for political positions within the state, and will likely continue to do so until they feel education in Oklahoma is where it needs to be, compared to the rest of the U.S. .
If the walkout had not received the support that it did from community members, government officials, politicians, advocacy groups, and lawyers, these outcomes which benefited the teachers probably would not have occurred, based on the consequences of the petition that surfaced prior to the walkout . In fact, without the support of those additional groups, the walkout might have worsened teachers' circumstances.
As a result of the walkout, more and more Oklahomans have a better understanding of how important public education is and how it is lacking in Oklahoma compared to other states . Therefore, one of the important lessons learned from this teacher walkout was: if you have the support of the people, you can force change, as Oklahoma teachers received their first pay raise since 2008, and the state received additional education funding [1,3,10].
 Brandes, H. (2018, April 13). Oklahoma teachers end nearly two-week walkout that shut schools. Reuters. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-oklahoma-education/oklahoma-teachers-end-nearly-two-week-walkout-that-shut-schools-idUSKBN1HJ3GE.
 Cohen, R. (2018, March 6). Teacher unrest spreads to Oklahoma, where educators are "desperate for a solution." The Intercept. Retrieved October 23, 2019, from https://theintercept.com/2018/03/06/oklahoma-teacher-strike-west-virginia/
 Eger, A. (2018, April 9). Second week of walkout: Nearly 200 female attorneys march to statehouse as protesters crowd Capitol again. tulsaworld.com. Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/second-week-of-walkout-nearly-female-attorneys-march-to-statehouse/article_4e0dedd4-3353-5961-a7d8-102c20a14ec5.html.
 Eger, A. (2019, April 29). Teacher pay raise boosts Oklahoma to 34th in nation, new rankings find. tulsaworld.com. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://tulsaworld.com/news/teacher-pay-raise-boosts-oklahoma-to-th-in-nation-new/article_b06ad560-40ed-5ccf-9517-036e9dbddbb4.html.
 Hauser, C. (2018, February 23). West Virginia teachers, protesting low pay, walk out. New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/us/west-virginia-teachers-strike.html.
 Get the Facts. (n.d.). Oklahoma Education Coalition. Retrieved October 24, 2019, from https://www.okedcoalition.org/get-the-facts.html.
 Change.org. (2018). Oklahoma teacher walkout? Retrieved October 23, 2019, from https://www.change.org/p/mary-fallin-oklahoma-teacher-walkout.
 Sanes, M., & Schmitt, J. (2014, March) [PDF]. Regulation of public sector collective bargaining in the states. Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research. Retrieved from http://cepr.net/documents/state-public-cb-2014-03.pdf.
 Stecklein, J. (2018, March 17). Teacher walkout looms as tempers flare at Capitol. The Norman Transcript. Retrieved from https://www.normantranscript.com/news/oklahoma/teacher-walkout-looms-as-tempers-flare-at-capitol/article_182ba61d-a48c-56c3-984d-9d9b260deb3c.html.
 Stecklein, J. (2018, April 13). Teachers union ends walkout, switching focus to elections. The Norman Transcript. Retrieved October 3, 2019, from https://www.normantranscript.com/news/education/teachers-union-ends-walkout-switching-focus-to-elections/article_539924ef-a89a-5998-91fa-3e780f7649db.html.
 National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Table 211.60. Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2016-17. In Digest of education statistics 2017. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2019, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_211.60.asp.
 Campbell, A. F., & Amaria, K. (2018, April 3). Oklahoma teachers are protesting 10 years of low pay. Here's what their walkout looked like. Vox. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2019, from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/4/3/17191082/oklahoma-teachers-protest-pay.
 Wendler, E., & Oklahoma, S. I. (2018, May 24). Galvanized by walkout, Oklahoma teachers run for office with promises to prioritize schools. KGOU. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2019, from https://www.kgou.org/post/galvanized-walkout-oklahoma-teachers-run-office-promises-prioritize-schools.
The first version of this case entry was written by Jacob McGuire, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.