OKLAHOMA CITY — Eric Weingartner worked two side jobs in addition to his job as a full-time 4th grade teacher to make ends meet. Chemistry teacher Becky Smith’s monthly paycheck rose just $300 in 16 years. Aimee Elmquist spent her own money to stock her biology classroom. Mary West did the same for her high school art class.
Teachers in Oklahoma have been doing more with less for over a decade now: state funding for schools has decreased over 25 percent in the last 10 years, the state ranks dead last in teacher pay, and almost a quarter of its school districts transitioned to a four-day school week to save money on things like electricity and janitor hours.
In March, Oklahoma teachers rallied around three legislative demands: a $10,000 raise for teachers, a $5,000 raise for support staff, and $200 million in restored funding for their classrooms. Despite partial legislative success on March 29th - promising teachers a $6,000 raise, $1,250 for support staff, and $50 million in restored funding, 30,000 teachers walked out in an effort to secure the rest of their demands.
“It was this super-hopeful environment. We were all down there, we were all together, working for the same thing,” Elmquist said. “The atmosphere was good; we felt like we had a lot of support.”
After nine days, the Oklahoma Education Association, the largest teachers organization in the state, called off the walkout and teachers returned to their classrooms without additional funding or raises. And now we’ve learned something else: Maybe it’s time to leave the classroom, for good.
“It wasn't until the day they announced that the walkout ended without teacher input that I knew: We have to leave,” said Sierra Thompson, a 9th grade teacher in Tulsa. “It was actually the next day that I started applying for jobs.”
VICE News Tonight spoke to 18 teachers who are closing their classroom doors one last time.