Oakland educators will go on strike Thursday, Feb. 21, to stand and fight for the quality public schools that all 36,000 Oakland students deserve.
At a news conference today flanked by parents, students and teachers standing in solidarity, Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Keith Brown announced that 3,000 Oakland educators will go on strike to fight for smaller class sizes, more support for students, living wages for educators and a halt to destructive school closures.
“Bargaining with the district has not—in two years—produced an agreement that will pay teachers enough to allow them to stay in Oakland. The district has not invested to make class sizes more conducive to teaching and learning and provide our students with the supports they need to thrive,” Brown said. “The only option that Oakland teachers, parents and students have left to win the schools Oakland students truly deserve, and to take control of our school district back from the billionaires, is for the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association to go on strike.”
The announcement comes a day after the release of a report by a neutral state-appointed fact-finder, which endorses OEA’s positions that Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) teacher retention crisis is much worse than the state average, that lower class sizes will help improve educational outcomes for students and that more supports for students are possible. The report (located here) also affirms that the unchecked growth of charter schools is creating a systemic inequity that is starving public schools of the resources they need to thrive.
“OUSD schools aren’t failing, OUSD is failing our schools,” Brown said. “OUSD is failing Oakland students.”
Years of district neglect, overspending at the top, and the unregulated growth of the charter industry have starved Oakland schools of necessary resources. One in five Oakland educators leaves the district each year due to low pay, leaving nearly 600 classrooms without an experienced teacher last school year. Class sizes are high, and students are without full-time nurses and an adequate number of counselors.
In an open letter to Oakland teachers, parents and students on Friday, Brown criticized school board members who were backed by billionaires for pushing a competition-based “portfolio” model for Oakland that “has led to a patchwork of privatization, school closures, and unimproved student outcomes in districts like New Orleans, Newark and Detroit.”
“It is time for the Oakland school board and our superintendent to make a choice – are they on the side of the billionaires who fund their campaigns and are pushing for more draconian budget cuts and school closures that will further hurt our kids,” Brown said, “or are they on the side of teachers, students, and parents fighting for the schools Oakland students deserve?”
Oakland educators are unified in their plan to strike for smaller class sizes, more school counselors and nurses to adequately support students, and living wages to allow educators to stay in Oakland. Teachers are also calling for a halt to a billionaire-backed plan to close up to 24 neighborhood schools in primarily African-American and Latinx Oakland neighborhoods.
In addition to being disruptive and destabilizing for students and communities, school closures will also lead to further loss of students to charter schools – privately managed, but publicly funded schools that make up 30 percent of student enrollment in Oakland, and are already costing Oakland schools more than $57 million a year, according to a key study.
Oakland parent Clarissa Doutherd said the chronic underfunding of Oakland public schools and displacement of students of color from their neighborhood schools needs to stop immediately.
“Our public schools should stay open. This is a direct attack on our families,” she said. “I’m urging all families and parents to join my family on the picket line with our teachers. This is a community effort. We will be successful, we will win, and we will not be pitted against each other in the name of budget cuts.”
Brown said the strike will be a community statement that Oakland’s students, public schools and community values are worth fighting for.
“We will strike WITH our parents, whose overwhelming support in the last few weeks has been felt by every single teacher in Oakland,” Brown said. “We will strike for our students, we will strike for educational justice, we will strike for racial justice, and we will strike for the future of public education in Oakland. Our students, families, and community are the center of everything Oakland educators do, and we are all in the fight for the schools Oakland students deserve together.”
How can you help?
The #RedForEd Oakland page has information, resources and opportunities to support OEA as they fight for Oakland kids. Donate today to the OEA strike fund, #BreadForEd to feed students and educators or download graphics to share on social media to show you stand with Oakland educators.
Featured photo by Mike Myslinski