Church leaders organizing prayer vigil in support of Oklahoma teachers
OKLAHOMA CITY – It is well-known that teachers in Oklahoma are some of the lowest paid in the country.
For years, teachers have been asking Oklahoma lawmakers to find a way to fund a pay raise for educators across the state.
When another legislative session came to a close without a teacher pay raise, many educators decided to leave the classroom or the Sooner State for better pay.
Lili Lyon, a Spanish teacher at Moore West Junior High School, compared her net pay from 2009 to now and realized she has barely received any additional compensation in almost nine years. Any raise she has received in the past she said has been taken by the rising insurance costs.
"It would take a $6,000 teacher pay raise right now just to make up the difference what they've lost over the last 10 years,” said Katherine Bishop, the vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association.
A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on 2016 data added fuel to the fire, indicating that Oklahoma has the lowest average teacher wages in the nation.
While teachers across the state are considering a potential walkout next month to demand better pay, a group of Oklahoma churches are also coming together to support them.
Pastors from several local churches are organizing the "Churches for Teachers Prayer Vigil" to call on lawmakers to act quickly to resolve the pay issue.
“Teachers in our city pour themselves out for the children and families of this city,” said Chauncey Shillow, pastor of Christ Community Church in Oklahoma City. “They play whatever role is necessary to see their students flourish. Many act as counselors, advocates, mentors, and surrogate parents, selflessly giving themselves away for the good of our most vulnerable. We have a moral obligation to care for them as they care for our children."
“Jesus is the one who said: ‘Let the little children come to me’ (Matthew 19:14),” Andrew Burkhart, lead pastor of Frontline South in Oklahoma City, said. “In caring for them, we are caring for him. For far too long, our state has failed to take responsibility to pay teachers a just and worthy wage. This shameful failure reveals that the children of Oklahoma are not valued by our state government in the way that Jesus intends. As the people of God, we care deeply for teachers because we care deeply for the little children of our state. The Church is called to be a voice for the voiceless and to defend the rights of the needy (Proverbs 31:8-9). As a pastor in Jesus’ Church with a voice, I call on our Oklahoma legislature to immediately do the right thing and pay teachers a just wage.”
However, lawmakers aren't sure exactly how they will meet teachers' demands.
Rep. Jeff Coody says that coming up with the funds to pay for a pay raise will be "virtually impossible."
"The price tag of all of these proposals is somewhere to the tune of $1.5 to $1.8 billion," Coody said in video taped at the Capitol. "Well, that’s over a third of what we allocate in our legislative appropriations and that’s virtually impossible."
The prayer vigil hosted by the church leaders will be on Thursday beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Capitol.