Thousands of protesting teachers and their supporters, many of them bused in from across the state, filled the Capitol grounds and spilled over into the surrounding streets.
THE DETERMINATION of Oklahoma teachers is a product of the bad conditions they face, along with the public education system in general. In comparison, the average starting salaries for Kentucky and Oklahoma were $36,494 and $31,919 respectively. Kentucky teachers are already ineligible for Social Security benefits.
Meanwhile, thousands of Oklahoma teachers and advocates for better education are poised to stage a classroom walkout and converge on the state capitol in Oklahoma City to call on lawmakers, including Governor Mary Fallin, to restore funding for education programs and supplies they say have been drastically slashed over the last decade. Under the Obama administration, which pumped trillions of dollars into the financial markets after the 2008 financial crisis, federal funding for school districts was slashed by 11 percent and special education was cut by nine percent.
The strike by some of the lowest-paid educators in the nation came the same day that Kentucky teachers dressed in red T-shirts flooded that state’s capital demanding pension security, following a similar successful wage-strike about a month ago by teachers in West Virginia.
Protesters chanted “Stop the war on public education” and some, angry at lawmakers who supported the overhaul, yelled “Vote them out”, while others held signs that read “We’ve Had Enough” and “A Pension is a Promise”.
“We are prepared for the biggest demonstration we have ever seen at the Capitol”, said Shelley Zumwalt, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Public education and education funding are topics of intense discussion in Stillwater, statewide and nationwide.
The Kentucky Education Association began Monday’s rally at union headquarters in Frankfort.
“We are just preparing for whatever possibility happens – at this point the only thing we know for sure right now is that school is out on Monday, and from there we’re going to wait and just be ready”, Christopher said.
Teachers throughout Oklahoma are planning to walk out of class on Monday in protest. According to WSAZ, Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler is urging school superintendents across the state to cancel classes so as many teachers as possible can participate in the rally.
The Oklahoma Education Association demanded $10,000 in raises for teachers over the next three years, KOKH-TV reported. While funding for public schools has dropped, there has been a steady increase in enrollment.
“As many of us as possible, we’re gonna go to the Capitol and we will rally”, she said.
While the state legislature passed a series of bills raising revenue and giving teachers a $6,100 raise late last week, thousands of teachers across the state intend to walkout tomorrow.
A call to close schools subsequent to Monday will be made on a day-to-day basis and will be dependent on an employee survey. Repeal of the hotel tax reduces the total package by about $45 million.
Priest said the $50 million increase approved by the state last week “will buy less than one textbook per student in Oklahoma”.
In contrast, the overwhelming sentiment among teachers is for an all-out struggle to secure serious increases.
81 per cent of teachers say they have considered leaving teaching in the previous year because of the pressures of workload.
Are there other strikes, walkouts? A group plans to file an initiative petition to recall the tax increases.