Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers went to their respective state capitals on Monday to demand lawmakers improve education funding. All public schools in Kentucky were shut down due to the rally and spring break, as were about 200 schools in Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma, teachers walked out of schools to attend a rally in Oklahoma City. Teachers there have been fighting for better salaries, since, by some estimates, Oklahoma has the lowest teacher salary in the nation.
But they’re demanding more than just raises. Oklahoma teachers want a $10,000 raise for teachers and $5,000 raise for education support professionals over three years, but they also request $200 million over three years to restore public funding in education, a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees, and new revenue for health care, mental health, and public safety.
— Jessica Bruno (@JbrunoKFOR) April 2, 2018
Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers President Ed Allen said in a statement to ThinkProgress that the rally is about a lot more than wages.
“More teachers must be hired to eliminate vacancies and reduce overcrowded classrooms; per-pupil spending must be raised; kids must have modern textbooks to replace ones that are more than a half-century old; and we need to bring back Advanced Placement courses and other electives so that kids leave high school with a well-rounded education,” Allen said.
Brittain Nowak, who teaches English at Cache High School, told Oklahoma News 4, “The part of the funding that hurts the high school the most is that we are not able to offer electives for these kids that they deserve. For example, we don’t have a speech and debate class, drama, creative writing.”
Recently, the Oklahoma legislature passed a $6,100 pay raise for teachers. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed the bill, which is the largest teacher pay raise in the history of Oklahoma, last week. But the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) continued to press lawmakers and said on Facebook, “Our ask is still our ask.”
— Anthony West (@antdwest) April 2, 2018
“This package doesn’t overcome shortfall caused by four-day weeks, overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need. It’s not enough,” OEA President Alicia Priest told reporters.
Oklahoma teachers organized for the possibility of a work stoppage for over a year to make sure that school districts, parents, and people in their communities understood why teachers organized a walkout. It’s unclear how long the walkout will continue. Oklahoma City Public Schools will be closed on Tuesday.
A Facebook page that is involved in planning walkouts, Oklahoma Teacher Walkout – The Time Is Now!, has a list of schools that supported school closures for a walkout before the bill on salaries passed and after the bill passed. Out of 218 schools that supported the walkout before the bill passed, 91 still supported the teachers’ decision to walkout and 22 were only closing for April 2.
In Kentucky, teachers are advocating for better funding of education and are still incensed over a controversial pension overhaul passed by lawmakers. Kentucky has the worst funded pension system in the country. Earlier this month, Kentucky teachers went to the state capital to demand that lawmakers do more to protect their pensions. This effort was partly successful, as some of the worst provisions of the bill overhauling pensions were taken out.
But teachers were still unhappy with the final bill, which passed last week and was tucked into a sewage bill. Under the bill, new teachers would have to a less generous pension plan and would have to work longer before being eligible for retirement benefits. Teachers were incensed on Friday and did not come in to work, closing schools in nearly 25 counties.
Teachers are most focused on the state budget right now. Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler told Courier-Journal last week that teachers were watching lawmakers to see if their budget will be “in the best interest” of students.Teachers also want more education funding for textbooks, school programs, and technology, according to WLWT. All 120 public school districts are closed.
— Raven Tiara Brown (@RavenBrownTV) April 2, 2018
Hundreds of teachers gathered at the capitol building and chanted, “We will remember in November.”
— becky pringle (@BeckyPringle) April 2, 2018
Laura Hartke, a teacher at Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, told ThinkProgress, “It’s not just our pensions we’re having issues with. It’s that along with programs they’re cutting for education.”
The Kentucky Senate passed major changes to the tax code, such as cutting the individual and corporate tax code to a flat 5 percent tax, according to Lexington Herald-Leader, and revenue will become from taxes on certain services that range from taxes on gyms to taxes on veterinary services. Transportation costs for K-12 schools will be fully funded and lawmakers increased per pupil funding for K-12 schools. The pension system will also be fully funded. It’s not clear if teachers consider this funding to be adequate.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more details.