OKLAHOMA CITY (CNN) - After nine days, the Oklahoma teacher walkout is ending, the state's largest teachers union said on Thursday. But teachers across the state pledged to continue fighting for more school funding and higher pay.
"We have created a movement and there's no stopping us now," Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said Thursday. "This fight is not over just because the school bell rings once more and our members walk back into schools."
The OEA decided to end the walkout with $479 million in funding for the next school year -- less than what they'd hoped to achieve, Priest said in a news conference. After days of negotiations with lawmakers in both the Oklahoma House and Senate, it became clear that "Senate Republicans won't budge an inch on any more revenue for public education," she said.
"We need to face reality," Priest told reporters. "Despite tens of thousands of people filling the Capitol and spilling out onto the grounds of this Capitol for nine days, we have seen no significant legislative movement since last Friday."
Priest said Oklahoma teachers had secured a victory even though the most significant gains were achieved before the beginning of the walkout. Before teachers walked out on April 2, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill giving teachers a $6,100 raise. The OEA had called passage of the bill a "truly historic moment," but said it didn't go far enough. It wanted that figure to be $10,000. Fallin also signed a bill that raised education funding over the next fiscal year by $50 million. The teachers' union also wanted that number to be higher.
Fallin, who compared the striking teachers to "a teenage kid that wants a better car," said she was glad teachers were returning to school.
"They've been out for two weeks, and it's time for them to get back to school," Fallin said in a statement. "Student learning at schools affected by the strike has been halted for nearly two weeks at a critical time in the academic year when federal and state testing requirements need to be completed."
The decision to end the Oklahoma walkout was met with mixed reaction from teachers, some of whom said OEA ended the walkout prematurely.
"The OEA doesn't get to decide when I'm finished," said middle school choir teacher Renee Jerden, who said she was inspired by the walkout to run for Senate. "I feel like it's a cop-out -- we have let them win by showing them they can behave however they want and we'll eventually get tired and go home."
Oklahoma teachers said additional spending was needed to improve deteriorating school facilities and outdated school supplies. Many said they paid for classroom supplies with their own money while working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Efforts to obtain more funding will continue away from the Capitol, Priest said. The OEA will be supporting its members and candidates who are running for office during the midterm elections against those who opposed funding Oklahoma's schools.
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