Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Oklahoma public, private educators support teacher walkout

Fifth-grade teacher Melissa Nelson prepares lessons for her class at Oklahoma Christian School, a private school, in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Private and preparatory schools across Oklahoma are standing with public school teachers as they their fight for better education funding.

While the private schools of Oklahoma are not state funded, many educators stand with their fellow teachers and believe their fight should not end until their requests are granted in full.

The teachers are rallying together to demand:
• $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.

Some charter schools like Harding Charter Preparatory in Oklahoma City have chosen to voice their support by shutting their doors. While they are not required to do this, since they are mostly funded by outside sponsors, Mylo Miller, Harding Charter Preparatory president, and many of his staff members believe that this is what the state needs.

While other private and preparatory schools are not closed, many of the educators recognize the importance of this teacher walkout because they too were once in a public school classroom, taping together textbooks and scrounging for more desks.

“It’s no fun when you don’t have enough desks for your kids, and you’re trying to figure out, ‘What am I going to do?’” said Melissa Nelson, fifth grade teacher at Oklahoma Christian School.

The distinct difference between private schools and public schools is that private schools are not funded by the government. However, while many private schools in Oklahoma are praised, the teacher pay is not as substantial as many may think.

Nelson explained that while her classroom conditions are better, her pay is not. Compared to her years teaching in both Texas and North Carolina, the conditions, pay and focus on state education has been greatly lacking.

“The difference for me is that my salary is now almost the same as Edmond public schools,” Nelson explained. “After 23 years of teaching, I thought I would make more, but there are other benefits that make up for that in the private schools.”

Nelson rehashed her 15 years in public education and the difficulty of making ends meet for her students. From rural to big city, she has taught in every classroom environment.

“When I did my student teaching in a rural area, we did not have the state funding that some of the bigger districts had, and I watched teachers go to workshops, with their own money, during the summer so they could provide something for their students – something more.”

Pulling money out of their own pockets to supply for students, these teachers have all dedicated to their students’ education.

“This year alone I have spent about $1,200-1,500 out of my own pocket. I had to furnish my classroom because there were so many things they needed to have,” said Adelina Clonts, a special education teacher of intellectual disabilities at Edison Preparatory School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Clonts and Nelson both acknowledge that the teacher raise Gov. Mary Fallin initiated with House Bill 1010XX was a step in the right direction, but not quite enough for the state.

“We want Oklahoma to be at the top,” said Nelson. “We don’t want to be known as a state where our kids can’t be educated. I love Oklahoma, but it’s very, very disheartening to know that they don’t put education first.”

Whether they’re a public, private or charter school educator, one thing is clear: the teachers want more for their students.

“I know the hearts of those teachers there, and I wish people knew that they are fighting for those kids,” said Nelson.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute reported that the state is currently ranked 45th in education. With educators flooding the doors to the Oklahoma State Capitol each morning every business day since April 2, one could say they are trying to improve that ranking. They just need the legislators to approve more funding.

Nelson offered some advice to Gov. Mary Fallin and the legislators at the state Capitol: “Go into public school classrooms. Go see what they are asking for. Is it that much to ask for a desk? A chair? Some textbooks? To help children succeed, that’s nothing.”

Oklahoma Christian School is a privately funded school that has not taken part in the Oklahoma teacher walkout. They have had class and do not plan on cancelling any classes.
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