By Mary Ellen Flannery
Fed up with unequal resources that starve their students of the schools they deserve, the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) went on strike on Thursday to demand smaller class sizes and increased access for students to counselors, school nurses, librarians, and school psychologists.
“You can’t feed the minds of our students by starving their schools,” OEA President Keith Brown has said.
On Thursday, educators, parents, and other supporters walked picket lines at all 86 Oakland schools, and thousands rallied at noon in Oakland City Hall, including NEA Vice President Becky Pringle. “Oakland, you are in the fight of your lives to make sure that not one, not some, but every single child can explore their imagination and live their brilliance!” Pringle told the crowd.
You are not alone, she reminded them. “Tens of thousands of teachers and support staff all over this country from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Colorado to Arizona to Los Angeles have risen up,” said Pringle. “They have risen up, and they have said, enough! Enough of taking advantage of our teachers who love our students and don’t have the money to live or take care of their families. Enough of the politicians with their cozy billionaire buddies stripping our schools of their resources and trying to shut them down.”
Just this week, West Virginia educators settled a two-day walk out over planned legislation that would have spent the state’s scant resources on private school vouchers and charter schools. Earlier this month, Denver teachers also went on strike, seeking more stability in their system. And, in January, United Teachers of Los Angeles members ended a six-day strike with a historic agreement that includes smaller class sizes, limits on testing, and increased student access to nurses, counselors and librarians. (To learn more about the national Red for Ed movement, visit neatoday.org/redfored.)
In Oakland, educators are focused on what students need to succeed. And it’s much more than the current one counselor for every 600 students, or one nurse per 1,750 students. “This strike is as much about the structure of our school system and services for our students as it about a living wage for educators,” Brown said.
Instead of investing in public school improvements, the Oakland school board has diverted $57 million to charter schools and proposed closing 24 neighborhood schools that serve mostly students of color. But the strike is a little bit about a living wage, too. Oakland teachers currently are the lowest paid in the San Francisco Bay area. According to the union’s estimates, rent for a basic one-bedroom apartment in Oakland would eat 60 percent of a starting teacher’s salary.
On Friday, which will be the second day of the strike, union and district negotiators are scheduled to meet.
Amanda Menas contributed to this story.