Home / National News / Thousands of teachers, students converge on Oklahoma and Kentucky capitols for labor rallies

 

(FRANKFORT, Ky.) — Braving the chilly weather, tens of thousands of public school teachers in Kentucky and Oklahoma converged on their state capitols today demanding higher wages and better classroom resources.

Thousands of teachers and supporters in Kentucky joined outside the Kentucky Education Association headquarters in Frankfort about 9 a.m., many fuming over their state legislature’s decision to overhaul their pension plan without any say from them.

“We’re putting them on notice today that if they don’t pass a budget that protects public services of Kentucky, if they don’t pass a budget that provides adequate funding for the schools in the Commonwealth, then we’re going to vote them out,” Stephanie Winkler, president of Kentucky Education Association and a 4th-grade teacher from Madison County, Kentucky, told the crowd before leading a march from the union’s headquarters around the state capitol building.

The teachers, most of them on their first day of spring break, were joined in a show of solidarity by members of other public employee unions, including those representing firefighters, police, plumber and pipe fitter.

The Republican-dominated Kentucky legislature says the pension reform bill was crafted to help the state cover a $41 billion shortfall in pension costs over the next 30 years. But teachers’ union officials said the overhaul would only generate $300 million in savings over the next three decades.

Meanwhile, thousands of Oklahoma teachers and education advocates staged a classroom walkout and converged on the state capitol in Oklahoma City to call on lawmakers, including Gov. Mary Fallin, to restore funding for education programs and supplies they say have been drastically slashed over the last decade.

Most of the Oklahoma teachers walked out of classrooms across the state to attend the rally in Oklahoma City. Many of them said they were fed up with the lack of resources in their schools, and some said they were teaching students about science and technology with textbooks from the 1990s.

The Oklahoma protest came after Fallin signed legislation Thursday granting teachers annual pay raises averaging $6,100, the largest in state history. Oklahoma teachers had been making an average of $45,276 a year, among the lowest wages for educators in the country, according to a 2017 report by the National Education Association.

While teachers in Oklahoma say they appreciate the pay raise, they are upset that state lawmakers shortchanged their students by slating only $50 million for education programs and supplies.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said the union had asked that teachers’ pay be raised by $10,000 annually and that funding for education be boosted by $200 million over the next three years.

“This can’t end today,” Priest told the crowd in front of the state capitol. “We have gained back our momentum. We have found our mojo in public education and we’re not going to step back and let people divest from education.”

Just as Priest and others were speaking, the Oklahoma City School District announced it was canceling classes on Tuesday, apparently in anticipation that teachers will continue their walkout at least another day.

The protests in Oklahoma and Kentucky came about a month after West Virginia public school teachers held a nine-day strike that ended when the governor and legislature gave them and other public employees a 5 percent raise, the first pay hike for teachers in four years.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, spoke this morning at the Oklahoma rally, saying, “I hope you learned a little bit from West Virginia on what it takes.”

“You’re here for the same reason we had thousands of teachers standing at the capitol in West Virginia: You’re here for the kids,” Lee said to loud applause.

“And what a shame it is that they didn’t learn from the experience of West Virginia,” he said of the Oklahoma lawmakers. “But, you know, that’s OK because what we will teach ’em is that it doesn’t matter how long it takes or what we have to do, we’re gonna stand together.”

Despite the pay hike, Oklahoma educators still earn below the national average for public school teachers of $58,950 a year, according to the National Education Association report. Only teachers in Mississippi and South Dakota earn less, according to the report.

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