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Oklahoma Teachers Set To Walk Out Over Pay Dispute


Tens of thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky will be on strike today. It's part of a wave of teacher walkouts this year that began in West Virginia and has emboldened teachers in other states to then follow suit. Randi Weingarten is president of American Federation of Teachers, and she joins us now.

Randi, thanks so much for being with us.

RANDI WEINGARTEN: It's great to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's focus in on Oklahoma. The governor there, Mary Fallin, passed the largest teacher pay raise in that state's history. So why are teachers walking out today?

WEINGARTEN: So last week, when the governor signed that bill, people throughout Oklahoma - and I'm here today - you know, we're...

MARTIN: You're in Oklahoma, yeah.

WEINGARTEN: We're really - I'm sorry. I'm in Oklahoma today. We're - thought this was a real down payment. And then one looked and saw that they took from one education pot give to another education pot as opposed to actually lifting up the dollars that were needed for kids in public education. Let me explain for a second how grave the situation is. Twenty percent of the districts in Oklahoma are on a four-day week. There are districts which have school textbooks that are 50 years old. There are teachers that basically are on subsistence wages. There are kids who are in class sizes of 50 and 60.

MARTIN: So teachers may have won this pay raise, but you're saying that there are other systemic issues that haven't been addressed.

WEINGARTEN: No, but it's worse, Rachel. It may have taken it from the core of education funding that needs to be lifted up as well. So what teachers are saying is you - yes, of course, we need a pay raise. We are paid 49th out of 50th in the nation. We haven't had a pay raise for 10 years. What - but you can't take it out of the core of education funding. We need to lift education funding up by about $200 million to get to a five-day school week, to get to class sizes that teachers can actually teach kids, to have textbooks that say the current president, not President Clinton. And that's - that is the gravity of what's going on here, that there has not been - there has been basically cut after cut after cut to kids for the last several - for the last, basically, 10 years.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you just in the seconds remaining, what do you think is happening in this moment? Because we've seen this - this started all in West Virginia, and Arizona teachers protested over the weekend. We've got the strike in Oklahoma, Kentucky. What's going on?

WEINGARTEN: Well, I think teachers are seeing that despair cannot be a strategy. They're seeing that the era of this passive (ph) resignation is over. And, frankly, because of what the Supreme Court is doing in the Janus case, you're going to see more and more and more of this because the states that have collective bargaining, they work this out at the bargaining table. But the states that don't, like Oklahoma or West Virginia, they're going to get more and more political. That's what's going on on behalf of our kids.

MARTIN: Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, she joined us on Skype. Thanks so much.

WEINGARTEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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