Oklahoma teachers to walk off job over pay, shut schools statewide

Tens of thousands of Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers ditched classrooms Monday to rally at their state capitals, demanding more education funding for students.

The strike by some of the lowest-paid educators in the nation came the same day that Kentucky teachers flooded that state's Capitol to protest changes to pensions.

"We won't let anyone disinvest in public education, we are here for the long haul", Alicia Priest, the head of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, told a cheering crowd outside the Capitol that organizers estimated at 30,000.

The Oklahoma Education Association-with 12,000 members out of a teaching workforce of 42,000 in the state-has put forward a legislative proposal that would give teachers a $10,000 raise over three years, with $6,000 of it coming in the first year.

Under the legislation, which was obviously created to head off the growing momentum for the April 2 strike, teachers would get an immediate salary increase worth between $5,000 and $6,000, and pay for public employees world rise by between $750 and $2,000 during the year.

With no raises for teachers in more than a decade, Oklahoma educators now have the lowest average pay of any state in the country.

Supporters say SB 151 is a prudent move to help retire Kentucky's pension debt while opponents say the structural changes will make it more hard to recruit and retain educators in the state.

Earlier this week, there were more than 35,600 teacher requests on the website.

Teachers have asked Ducey for a 20 percent pay boost and regular annual raises, a demand he hasn't committed to. But it switches new hires to a "hybrid" 401 (k)-style plan and ends some contractual protections that now prohibit lawmakers from altering pension benefits for public workers, teachers included. He said that his participation in the Frankfort rally was to spread the message that legislators should fully fund public education.

It's a small portion of the Sidney School District's valuation that comes from valuation ag land, but the district is developing more offerings in its ag education electives.

During Monday's rally, some teachers, angry at lawmakers who supported the bill, chanted "Vote them out".

Disrespect for teachers is certainly at play in Republican-controlled states that pay salaries that leave teachers working second, third, and even sixth jobs, but it's not just that.


"We consider it a down payment", he said in a statement last week when his union accepted the budget deal.

Schools across Kentucky were closed, due either to spring break or to allow teachers and other school employees to attend the rally.

"They want us to be there because they enjoy being in school".

When the Oklahoma senate voted last week to increase teacher pay, thousands of Arizona teachers gathered in Phoenix at the capitol.

Arizona teachers, too, are calling both for pay raises and for increased education funding-and planning to take action if they don't see improvements.

"I think the teachers are fully prepared to go all the way through the school year". In Kentucky, educators are fighting legislation that they say would disrupt their pension plans.

Ducey has also reiterated his support for a $15 million tax cut this year.

"It's time that we fund education and that we value our education", said Susan Brooks, a teacher.

But in many other states, grassroots teachers groups, like Larry Cagle's group in Oklahoma, have taken the lead - often using social media to organize.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has not yet signed the bill, but last week tweeted his support, saying public workers owe "a deep debt of gratitude" to lawmakers who voted to pass it.

This partly reflects a ministry drive for multi-teacher "modern learning environments", but Potter said it would also include classes that have one teacher for part of the week and another teacher for another part of the week, and team-teaching within conventional classrooms.


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