Two weeks ago teachers, state employees, and supporters decided that they had had enough. Enough of overcrowded classrooms and the exodus of teachers to neighboring states. Enough of state employees who are overworked and under-paid. Enough of cuts to core services putting our most vulnerable citizens at risk. Enough of refusing to invest in Oklahoma.
Two weeks ago advocates across this state demanded better. Tens of thousands of people showed up at the Capitol to advocate for better funding. Teachers walked to the Capitol from across the state. Citizens lined up to get into the building and talk to their legislators, many for the first time.
Thanks to the overwhelming voices of advocates, a revenue bill was passed to address our most pressing problems, but it wasn’t enough. Our budget is far from being fixed. We have not yet reversed years of devastating cuts to vital state programs and services. This week teachers and students are returning to their classrooms and Oklahomans are returning home asking themselves if it was worth it. If that much effort gets you only a fraction of the way to real solutions, is there any point in fighting?
Here’s the thing about advocacy–it’s hard, it’s tiring, and it takes a lot of time to get anything done. Our system of government was not designed for quick changes. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Here’s what you accomplished.
The Oklahoma teacher walkout gained national exposure. News outlets across the country highlighted the plight of Oklahoma schools. The rest of the country has seen our tattered books, our broken chairs, and our teachers working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. You helped shine a light on the heart-breaking conditions facing our educators and students.
For the first time in decades, a revenue raising package was passed. Oklahoma requires a 75% legislative supermajority to approve any tax increases–one of the highest hurdles in the country–so this was no easy task. This would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of citizens lobbying their legislators for a change from the status quo.
Seven hundred ninety-four candidates have filed for office. By day two, the Oklahoma State Election Board passed the three-day high for candidate filing since at least 2000. Teachers and citizens are challenging complacent legislators for their seats, and voters across the state will now have a choice in previously uncontested races.
Most importantly, Oklahomans are now engaged in the legislative process like never before. Legislators who tell constituents that they support education will also be expected to support the proper funding. Candidates who tell voters they stand with teachers will also be expected to provide a plan. Oklahomans are wiser these days.
The outcome last week wasn’t as much of a win as we’d hoped for, but it certainly wasn’t a loss. It was a big step in the right direction. How far we can move forward and how quickly we get there depends on each one of us and our continued advocacy both at the Capitol and the ballot box.