Married couple Jason and Ashley Mackey, both eighth-grade U.S. history teachers from Edmond, Oklahoma, demonstrate outside the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday, April 2, 2018. (Chelsea Horn)

Weeks before an estimated 40,000 teachers flooded the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday, the Oklahoma Education Association listed its demands as follows:

  • $10,000 educator raise,
  • $5,000 education-support professional raise,
  • $200 million in education funding over three years
  • and a $7,500 raise for state employees.

On March 29, Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 1010XX, which created more than $400 million in new revenue to finance increases to educator pay, support staff pay, public employee pay and general education funding.

During Monday’s teacher walkout, some educators forcefully demanded more from their legislators while others came with a message more tailored toward saying “thank you.” Meanwhile, the sentiment that more work is needed prevailed among all parties.

Teacher: ‘Our students deserve this’

Eighth-grade U.S. history teachers Ashley and Jason Mackey believe HB1010XX fails to go far enough.

“The teacher raise is great but, there is so much more that goes into it,” said Ashley. “Our students deserve this and our kids, whenever they reach school age, they deserve it.”

Jason explained the funding is needed because students are falling behind in preparing for life. For example, as other classrooms advance technologically, some Oklahoma classrooms still lack a SmartBoard.

“We’re not teaching in rooms with blackboards,” said Jason. “Society is asking more of these students and for us to prepare them to be work-ready and college-ready. We’re just going to need the funds to do it.”

Teachers work second jobs to afford food

Beyond providing Oklahoma’s students a competitive education, many teachers at the Capitol on Monday said they simply can’t survive in this economy with their current salaries. They don’t believe that the raises passed last week — an average $6,100 increase per teacher — will fix that dilemma, either.

Donna Cochren and Tearsa Innis, both teachers at Ben Franklin Stem Academy in Muskogee, said working additional jobs is the only way they can make ends meet.

“I’m a manager at Walmart, and I make almost as much part-time there as I do teaching,” said Cochren.

“I work three nights a week at one of the local colleges tutoring,” said Innis. “That helps me buy food and provide for my family.”

POE director: ‘Our legislators deserve some gratitude’

While acknowledging more work is needed, other education advocate at the Capitol on Monday expressed gratitude for the salary increase and wanted to thank their legislators for taking the first step.

Ginger Tinney, executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators, said last week’s pay raises are likely as good as it’s going to get for teachers right now.

“I think our legislators deserve some gratitude,” Tinney said. “They have stuck their necks out, they gave us a substantial pay raise that we will enjoy next year, and if you want to come back and ask for more, you have to be nice. Don’t burn the bridge down.”

Tinney said she and her team are proud of what has been accomplished. She said they plan to execute the next necessary steps to secure more education funding over time.

“We’re thanking them right now because we’re coming back for more next year,” she said.

Likewise, Andrea Stewart, a POE member and STEM coordinator for Bethany School District, couched her appreciation for the passage of HB 1010XX in the context of teachers’ continued advocacy.

“We agree with all the teachers here that education funding is critical, and we want to advocate for that to continue, but today we just really want to thank them for the raise we got,” she said.

Chelsea Horn is a senior journalism student at the University of Oklahoma. Her roots are in San Antonio, Texas, but she has taken an interest in Oklahoma communities through breaking news and capitol reporting with News 9. After graduation, she hopes to continue her journalistic endeavors across Oklahoma.