Oklahoma Teachers Rally At State's Capital

03 April, 2018, 04:41 | Author: Brenda Erickson
  • Tens of thousands of teachers planning massive rallies and classroom walkouts

Despite a 16% pay hike signed into law Thursday, many Oklahoma teachers walked off the job Monday, forcing the closure of about 200 schools statewide.

"That's unrealistic. That's just my feeling", said Hazle. Opponents objected that the pension changes were inserted into an unrelated bill without a chance for public input, and worry that the changes will discourage young people from joining the profession. "I want for people to think of education as an honorable and noble profession. Nothing. You don't matter.' But we matter, and our kids matter". However, new teachers will have to enter a new hybrid cash balance retirement plan as part of their benefit pension plan, in which they must contribute a specific amount of money to their account. Also, "so teachers can work extra jobs". 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.

Andrew Beaver, a math teacher in Louisville, Kentucky's largest city, told The New York Times that teachers were angered when the state legislature suddenly passed a bill last week to alter educators' retirement benefits.

Educators say years of austerity in many states have led to wage stagnation and the hollowing-out of school systems.

She said it is important to represent her school district, and others, and to show support for current, retired and future generations of teachers.

Many Oklahoma schools were closed Monday, and districts announced plans to stay shut into Tuesday with teacher demonstrations expected to last a second day.

Teachers filled the halls of the capitol with shouts of "Vote them out!" and "Enough is enough!"

The educators came to Frankfort from cities across the state.

Hazle and his group supports teachers going back to school. Several schools in Kentucky were forced to close Friday as teachers left classrooms to head to the statehouse to protest school pension reform. But upon arriving in Frankfort, it was clear that the crowd had exceeded expectations.

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National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia spoke to thousands during the rally in Oklahoma, saying lawmakers need to do more.

"Significant revenue-raising measures were approved to make this pay raise and additional school funding possible", the Republican said in a statement. "If it'd been a regular school day, it'd have been 10 times this".

"We've all heard stories from students, parents and teachers affected by eleven years of cuts to our classrooms", said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, in a Sunday Facebook video.

"We've gotten exhausted of begging for everything", said Cagle, a co-founder of the grassroots advocacy group Oklahoma Teachers United. "But we were promised a full pension and full health care".

The protests weren't aimed only at last week's pension overhaul.

Despite the frustration and even anger, the mood inside Oklahoma's capitol was upbeat and something of an expo, with legislators offering hot coffee and bagels to protesting teachers and their supporters.

Jake Akin, a teacher at Collegiate Hall Charter School in Tulsa, said kids suffer from the lack of funding he's seen "on both sides" - charter and public.

But Democratic lawmaker Collin Walke said teachers should keep up the pressure. "They privatized prisons and they privatized schools". Republicans hold 72 seats, so they need Democrats. "This is about funding our schools for our students".

Oklahoma ranks 47th among states and the District of Columbia in public school revenue per student, almost $3,000 below the national average, while its average teacher salary of $45,276 ranked 49th before the latest raises, according to the most recent statistics from the National Education Association. Teachers in Arizona could soon join them in walking out. "What's being considered today is the state budget that has the cuts to transportation, cuts to family resource centers, tons of cuts to textbooks". They vowed that the protests and organized opposition would continue.

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