Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) is facing criticism after she likened teachers who are demanding raises and improved education funding to a teenager asking for a new car.
“Teachers want more,” Fallin told CBS News on Tuesday as thousands of striking educators descended upon the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. “But it’s kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car.”
Fallin’s tone-deaf remark further infuriated teachers already frustrated with state lawmakers’ failure to meet their demands.
Tens of thousands of educators across Oklahoma have been on strike since Monday. They’re seeking a $200 million bump in education funding, a $10,000 raise over three years for teachers and a $5,000 raise for support staff.
The governor signed a bill last week raising teacher salaries by only $6,100 on average and restoring education funding by $50 million. On Tuesday, Fallin signed a measure giving support staff a $1,250 raise.
The Oklahoma Education Association, the union coordinating the strike, said the new legislation is simply not adequate.
“Tens of thousands of educators, parents and community members are showing up at the capitol every day because they are overwhelmed by classrooms with more students than desks, duct-taped textbooks, and schools that are only heated to 60 degrees,” said Alicia Priest, the union’s president, in a statement. “This legislation falls well short of fixing those problems. These measures leave millions in revenue on the table and still leave Oklahoma students among the worst-funded in the nation.”
Oklahoma teachers are also among the lowest paid in the country.
Tensions between the state’s educators and lawmakers have been running high since the walkout began.
After the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives failed to move legislation on Monday, the Oklahoma Education Association said that “disrespect from lawmakers” was fueling teachers’ “anger and frustration.”
Fallin has also provoked the wrath of educators and their supporters. Besides her comparison of teachers to teens, she suggested in the same CBS interview that “antifa,” or anti-fascist militant groups on the left, had joined the protests at the Capitol.
State Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow) has also faced backlash this week for saying in a Facebook video, since deleted, that he would not vote “for another stinking measure when [teachers] are acting the way they are acting.” Cyndi Ralston, a 30-year teacher, announced on Tuesday that she would run for McDugle’s seat as a Democrat.
“For years, my profession has been under siege by our legislature. Budget cut after budget cut have forced us to do ever more with ever less, and it cannot continue on this path,” Ralston said in a statement. “When my colleagues and I have visited our Republican representatives and senators, we have been brushed off, if not outright lied to. Republican members of the legislature have made it crystal clear that they do not believe they work for us, that our concerns do not matter.”
The Oklahoma walkout follows a teacher strike in West Virginia, which resulted in a 5 percent pay raise for educators there. Arizona teachers are planning a statewide strike as well.
On Friday and Monday, educators in Kentucky walked out to protest proposed changes to their pension plans. Dozens of teachers in that state are now seeking public office. They’ve had enough, they say, of lawmakers’ failure to stand up for them.