The Teacher Strike in Oklahoma
Public school teachers have left the classroom and taken to the streets, finally. It should be obvious to all in West Virginia and now Oklahoma the legislatures there and around the country will do nothing without a strike. Several newspapers including the Washington Post have reported the wages for Oklahoma Teachers rank 49 among the 50 states. I expect the rankings they quote come from published pay schedules with ranks and steps. Usually ranks differ for BA degree holders and for MA and ED.D degree holders, while steps differ by years of service with satisfactory or better performance reviews.
However the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an annual Occupational Employment Survey with the latest wage data just released this March 30. In their survey they take a large sample of wages for people employed doing one occupation among more than 800 occupational titles defined in their Standard Occupational Classification (SOC). For example, Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education have a reported median wage in Oklahoma of $40,090. The median figure means half of Oklahoma secondary school teachers earn less than $40,090; half more.
From year to year the median could go up because the state legislature approves money for an increase in the pay scale, both rank and steps. Or, it could go down because older people at higher ranks and steps leave teaching and their replacements are younger and newer teachers who enter at step 1. In Oklahoma the total of elementary, middle and high school teachers dropped by 440 from 2016 to 2017. Whatever the cause the $40,090 median wage reported for 2017 puts Oklahoma secondary teachers dead last in pay among the fifty states plus DC and Puerto Rico.
The wage for Secondary teachers in Oklahoma has been dead last since 2015 when the median wage was $41,280. Notice the wage went down from 2015 to 2017, which tells us the experienced, older teachers are leaving teaching while younger less experienced and therefore lower paid replacements are taking over.
The inflation adjusted loss of buying power for secondary teachers comes to 6.04 percent from 2015 to 2017. If we compute the inflation adjusted buying power from 2008 to 2017 the loss is 11.03 percent. The $40,090 looks especially low when 39 states have median wages for secondary teachers above $50,000, 18 above $60,000 and 6 above $70,000.
Moving on to elementary teachers finds much the same thing. The median wage for elementary teachers in 2015 was $39,270. It dropped in 2016 and again in 2017 to $38,420, a loss of inflation adjusted buying power of 5.35 percent in just two years and a 12.6 percent drop since 2008. There are 32 states that pay their 2017 elementary school teachers a median wage above $50,000
The wage for middle school teachers in Oklahoma in 2015 was $40,720. It dropped in 2016 and again in 2017 to $40,080, a loss of buying power of 4.77 percent in just two years and a 7.69 percent drop since 2008. There are 36 states that pay their 2017 middle school teachers a median wage above $50,000
On April 3, 2018 the Washington Post reported “Educators, students have seen some of the deepest reductions in the nation.” Picketing teachers had more to complain about than low salaries. Four day school weeks; old, out of date and battered textbooks; ten year old and out of date computers; leaky roofs, drafty windows, balky heating. The next day’s Washington Post quoted Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin taunting teachers with “Teachers want more but it’s kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car.” Apparently red baiting protesting picketers as communists is out of date. She told CBS correspondent Omar Villafranca she doubted the teacher walkout could be a homegrown movement; their must be fascists she decided.
The strike says lots about labor relations. Private sector employees can strike if their no strike contract has expired, but even then they can be immediately and legally replace with scabs. Public sector employees seldom, if ever, have the legal right to strike. We can expect that union hating and union baiting governor Fallin would have them in court seeking an injunction and hefty fines for their union if she could break the strike.
Few strikes could be more visible and disruptive than a statewide teacher strike. Oklahoma had 48,820 employed as preschool, primary, secondary, and special education school teachers in 2017. California has 422,200. Texas has 415.920. Even little Maine has 19,150. Rarely do strikes have such a large block of professionals where those on strike have BA or MA degree skills and statewide certification. Rarely would it be necessary for management to pay much higher salaries to find strike replacements, and have to find them out of state. Rarely can strikes shut down operations for weeks or months if necessary.
The rich and the well to do are so determined to get themselves property tax vouchers to pay their private school tuition they work hard to ruin the public schools they ridicule as low class failures. Oklahoma teachers have the economic power to fight back and win their strike; lets hope they have the solidarity to do it.