The Slatest

An Oklahoma Lawmaker Blasted the State’s Teacher Walkout. Now a Teacher Is Running to Unseat Him.

Cyndi Ralston
Cyndi Ralston.
Cyndi Ralston for Oklahoma House District 12

Just before the statewide teacher walkout continued into its third day, one Oklahoma teacher announced she will run for state office to unseat a previously unopposed local lawmaker who said he would not vote for another education-funding measure when teachers are “acting the way they’re acting.”

Cyndi Ralston, a woman who taught in Oklahoma public schools for 30 years and who played a part in organizing her school’s participation in the walkout, said she was running for State House Seat 12 as a Democrat against Republican Kevin McDougle. Her platform, she wrote, would focus on teacher pay and school funding.

McDougle angered educators and their supporters Tuesday, the second day of the walkout, with a Facebook Live video criticizing the teachers for their behavior. He had voted in support of a bill to increase education funding last year, he said, but said he would not support another one now. “It took us a year and a half to pass it. And now, they come into this House, they want to act this way,” he said. “I’m not voting for another stinking measure when they’re acting the way they’re acting.

“Now you’re going to come here and act like this after you got a raise?” he continued. “Go ahead, be pissed at me if you want to.”

McDougle later deleted the video and apologized for how the message came across but defended his stance, saying “I will continue to vote for the teachers” but “I don’t approve of some of the things that are being done here.”

Ralston said the video inspired her to announce her campaign early. (She filed her intent to campaign last week). “[H]e disrespected and denigrated teachers and administrators who have come to the capitol to protest the legislature’s wholly inadequate support for education,” she wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. She continued:

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. 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. That disrespect was given a name and a face this morning when Representative McDugle posted his video. I cannot, I will not stand idly by any longer.

Other teachers, with the support of students and their school districts, continued to push for their demands at the capital on Wednesday, despite the state’s governor telling them they were acting like “a teenager wanting a better car.”

According to the Washington Post, budget cuts to the schools have been so severe that many districts have adopted a four-day school week, while others have had to endure winter without functioning heating systems because they could not afford maintenance and repairs. And the teachers themselves are close to the very bottom in the country for teacher pay, ranking 49th in average salaries, according to the National Education Association.

As a result, teachers are asking for $200 million in education funding as well as pay raises of $10,000 over three years and $5,000 for other school staff. Schools across the state, which largely support the teachers, have closed for the duration of the walkout.

Molly Olmstead is a Slate assistant social media editor.