After Victorious Strike, W. Virginia Teacher Sends Message to Oklahoma Educators Poised to Walk Out

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As West Virginia teachers celebrate victory in their historic strike, Oklahoma teachers are considering following in their footsteps. On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Education Association announced that teachers would go strike on April 23 if the state Legislature doesn’t approve pay increases and funding for educational needs. For more, we speak with Teresa Danks, a third-grade teacher at Grimes Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She made headlines last year when she panhandled on a roadside to raise money for supplies for her classroom. She has since started a foundation called Begging for Education, dedicated to funding classrooms, improving teachers’ salaries and fiscal responsibility in Oklahoma. And we speak with Katie Endicott, a high school English teacher in Mingo County, West Virginia, who has a message for her counterpart in Oklahoma.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Teresa Danks, you’re in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There has been a lot of organizing that’s been going on in Oklahoma right now. Your state has the lowest-paid teachers in the country. You made headlines when you started panhandling on the side of the road to raise money for schools. What does this West Virginia victory mean for teachers in Oklahoma, for education, for kids in Oklahoma?

TERESA DANKS: Well, we are very—we’re thrilled for them. We’ve been watching them closely. And it’s been just exciting to see them have the courage to step up. And I think that’s kind of what we’ve been working for here in Oklahoma, is to have teachers make decisions that are not fear-based, and have courage to step up and have their voices heard. So, yeah, we’ve been very encouraged by what they’re doing there.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are you demanding in Oklahoma right now?

TERESA DANKS: Well, we started a petition, kind of like—it’s Oklahoma teacher walkout, a last resort—on Begging for Education, and that’s a Facebook page. And it was basically where we’re taking signatures from any taxpayers in the state of Oklahoma, and we’re around 30,000 signatures right now, would like it to be around 50,000, so we could do an open letter to our governor as kind of a last effort to demand that they do right by the educators of Oklahoma and their children that we serve.

We have been kind of congregating here in Oklahoma, and teachers have been pulling together. And we were under the impression that we were getting a lot of our support from our districts and our state, and we had the date of April 3rd in place. Last night, when OEA announced the 23rd, we had thousands, including myself, of infuriated teachers. So we’ve had a little bit of a setback there. And so, just people—my phone was blowing up. You know, I was up talking to people. Teachers don’t want to wait that late, because that’s literally the end of our school year. That’s after spring break, and that puts us at like four weeks 'til summer. And they want to see action sooner. So, we're kind of divided again.

And so, we’re doing our best to rally teachers back together. We have teachers that are just—you know, they’re giving up. We’re having a lot of—we’re very skeptical here right now. We’re kind of maybe a few steps behind West Virginia in that we’re not 100 percent sure that we’re having our state legislators and our school districts really supporting us 100 percent. But the teachers, many of them, are ready to walk out, with or without their support, because, as you mentioned, we are the lowest paid in the nation. We can’t recruit new teachers. We can’t retain the teachers that we have. And we have a lot of teachers that are getting close to retiring. And we are looking at our crisis quickly turning into a tragedy.

AMY GOODMAN: And the administrators in the schools, are they supporting you, the superintendents across Oklahoma?

TERESA DANKS: Yes, they are, but they’re very slow to move. We’ve had a lot of support—verbal support. Like I said, we had some things roll out in writing that were indicating that we were going to have a closedown on April 3rd. Teachers were feeling the morale was coming back. Teachers were happy about that, feeling like it would make a difference. But then, with OEA’s announcement last night with the 23rd, that just completely changed things. So, right now, we’re not—really not sure what’s going to happen, because they’ve actually pulled that post about the 23rd and said that they’re, you know, talking it over more, they’ve heard our voices, that thousands of teachers are furious about that date.

We’re looking—we’re asking for, obviously, a $10,000 pay raise. You can go to Arkansas and Texas, and a brand-new teacher starts out at what our 25-, 30-year veteran teachers are making here in Oklahoma. It’s ridiculous. And it’s been that way way too long. We had a strike in Oklahoma in 1990 for the same thing, and we were told back then we would never be in the situation that we find ourselves today.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the response to your panhandling on the street for education, for the schools, Teresa?

TERESA DANKS: It’s been—it was very—it was fun, in a weird way, because I was nervous. I went out there really just trying to set the message, last July, that—send a message that this is where we’re at: We are begging. We are begging for our voices to be heard. We picket the Capitol all the time. We go unheard. We get empty promises. Nothing has changed. Teachers in Oklahoma haven’t seen a pay raise since 2008. That’s ridiculous. And they keep coming up with all these excuses and blaming—the blame game back and forth, whose fault it is, but there’s been absolutely no action. And I think that is why teachers are where they’re at today. On top of that, we’re losing teachers so fast, we can’t keep up. And our population is growing.

As far as the panhandling goes, I was able to raise $40,000 through the GoFundMe that I set up. That money has been disbursed back out, in my classroom and many, many teachers across the state. And that was a wonderful feeling. I’m still in the process of doing fundraising effort. BounceU, here in Tulsa, is working with me to set up a day for kids to go and bounce and jump and raise money for the beginning of next year. And so, I’m still looking at other efforts to raise money to help teachers not have to pay out of pocket, because on top of our low salaries, our high insurance and all the other problems that are happening in the classroom, teachers are paying out of pocket for everything. And it’s got—we need our classrooms funded properly so that teachers don’t have to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Katie Endicott, what words of wisdom do you have for Teresa Danks, or experience from this, one of the longest wildcat strikes in West Virginia history?

KATIE ENDICOTT: Teresa, I can tell you that everything that you are saying, we have been saying the same thing. It feels so familiar to me to hear the situation that you are in in Oklahoma. And one of the things that we have made it very clear about here in West Virginia is that, yes, we were striking for us, but we wanted to inspire teachers all across the nation. The last chant that we had, as soon as—or the first one, as soon as we found out that we won, was “We are worthy.”

TERESA DANKS: Absolutely.

KATIE ENDICOTT: And what I would tell Oklahoma teachers and educators is that you are worthy. And you need to, like she was talking about, step out in courage. One of the things that we learned that was so important was that there will always be people that will tell you the risks, but we in West Virginia can tell you the rewards. And if you can stand in unity, and if you can lock arms with your brothers and sisters and you can take that courageous step out, you will never regret it, because we’ve been saying that one voice produces an echo, but thousands of voices produces a roar. And so, Oklahoma, we stand with you, here in West Virginia, in complete solidarity. We will be watching and following. We will be supporting you every step of the way.

TERESA DANKS: Thank you so much. I really appreciate those words. Very encouraging.

AMY GOODMAN: And also, Katie—

KATIE ENDICOTT: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —you not only won this 5 percent raise for teachers in West Virginia, but for all state workers?

KATIE ENDICOTT: Yes, yes. And, you know, again, I talked about the ugly side of politics and the divisive rhetoric. And through this process, I believe that people were trying to win the public over, and there were a lot of people that were trying to turn teachers and educators against public employees. But from the beginning, we have been chanting “Five for all.” And so, we know that—we believe in the future of West Virginia. And we know that we deserve more than what we’re getting. And so, we believe that, you know, it’s not just teachers. It’s this state. The state has to invest into our future, and they do that by investing into us and into our children. And so, we were—we’ve been saying all along, “Five for all.” And it was beautiful, when I left the Capitol yesterday. There were public employees who were stopping on the side of the road, and they were saying, “Thank you so much. Thank you for fighting for us. We don’t believe what’s on the news. We know all along you’ve been fighting for us.” And, you know, again, Oklahoma, we’re fighting for you. The last chant that we had here was “West Virginia first! Oklahoma next!” And so, we believe that you are next, and we’re going to champion your cause.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for joining us, from West Virginia and from Oklahoma, Katie Endicott, high school English teacher in Mingo County, West Virginia, speaking to us from the state House in Charleston, and Teresa Danks, a third-grade teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We will continue to follow these struggles. Will the teachers of Oklahoma walk out? And we’ve just covered the successful strike for teachers in West Virginia. You can go to our website at democracynow.org to see our discussion with British university lecturers who have gone out on strike with librarians and staff across England.

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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