Lyndsey Stuart is a history and leadership teacher at Bartlesville High School in Oklahoma. She’s been teaching for 10 years. And she’s never had a raise.“I don't think any teacher goes into the profession and thinks, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm going to be a millionaire,’’’ Stuart said. “But we also don't think that we're going to be that close to poverty.”Earlier this month, the state teachers union, the Oklahoma Education Association, called for teachers to walk out of their classrooms on April 2, the day after the state Legislature is required to pass an education budget. They’re calling for a $10,000 raise for teachers over three years, as well as a $200 million increase in funding for education, which has been cut 28.2 percent since 2008.
Stuart makes $34,929 a year as a teacher, but she works about 30 additional hours a week as a photographer to make ends meet. She said she makes about as much as a photographer as she does teaching.And Stuart isn’t alone. The average high school teacher in Oklahoma makes $42,460, which ranks 50th in the nation for teacher salaries.“I know more teachers than not who have to have second or third jobs,” she said.And teachers in other states within the seven-state region of Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas average $48,103 as of May 2017.
Teachers at Bartlesville High School have been taking personal days every Tuesday to lobby legislators in Oklahoma City. But they haven’t been as receptive as the teachers would have liked them to be.“We had a senator come to our school and told our children that a teacher walkout wasn't going to change anything. And I beg to differ. When you have 50,000 to 80,000, maybe 100,000 teachers show up at the Capitol, it's going to change things.”
While the Oklahoma House this week passed a package that would give teachers at least a $5,000 raise and raise taxes in the state for the first time since 1990, it hasn’t become law yet. And it doesn’t include an increase in school funding. So the Oklahoma Education Association has said the walkout is still on.“We were left with no other option [but to walk out] because they will not listen to us. And thus far they've gotten away with doing whatever they want, and telling teachers to just wait and be patient,” Stuart said. “And how long do you wait? How long can we compromise?”