"The legislation providing more funding for higher teacher salaries and tax increases is a great beginning, but it's not the end", said Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers, in a rally at the state Capitol.
School teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky walked off the job on Monday to protest cuts in pay, pensions and benefits, as discontent over years of sluggish spending on public education spilled over in two more US states and threatened to spread. Districts announced plans to keep campuses shut down into Tuesday with teacher demonstrations expected to last a second day.
But that fell short of teachers' demand for a $10,000 pay increase over three years for teachers and a $5,000 raise for support personnel. But for educators who had not seen a base salary raise in over ten years, the partial concession was not enough to dissuade Monday's planned walkout.
"If I didn't have a second job, I'd be on food stamps", said Rae Lovelace, a single mom and a third-grade teacher at Leedey Public Schools in northwest Oklahoma.
"I think the teachers are fully prepared to go all the way through the school year".
"It wasn't but a few years after House Bill 1017 was passed that we saw class sizes returned to larger sizes", Wolfe said.
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The protests come a month after teachers in West Virginia won a pay raise after shutting down schools for almost two weeks before winning a pay raise. Gov. Doug Ducey didn't directly address the teachers' demands, but noted that the state already gave teachers a 4.3 percent raise from 2016 to 2017. Outside the Capitol, a sign said: "You Make Us Sick".
"I'm here for school funding".
"This will allow our district to provide much-needed services to our students and our community", Floyd wrote, "while continuing to let our voices be heard in Oklahoma City through a daily delegation of more than 50 EPS team members".
In Kentucky, nearly all the state's 173 school districts were closed, a lot of them to allow teachers to protest, a spokesman for the Kentucky Education Association said.
A majority of teachers said that while they are grateful for pay raises (about $6,000 on average) approved by lawmakers last week, they are seeking an increase in public school funding, which has dropped on a per-student basis over the past decade.
"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.
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"We're madder than hornets, and the hornets are swarming today", said Claudette Green, a retired teacher and principal.
The 14-year-veteran teacher wasn't missing school because her district has a previously scheduled professional development day Monday.
As a result, Kentucky educators from 20 counties called out of work sick or requested substitutes in order to chant "Stop the war on public education" in front of the capitol building in Frankfort. The teachers are also demanding additional state funding for school supplies like books and computers.
In addition to the outcry over the pension bill, teachers are also demanding more funding for schools to help pay for textbooks, technology and school programs. "I've thought about moving to another state where we might be respected more", she said. They stay up late grading anyway.
Republican lawmakers in Kentucky passed Senate Bill 151, the pension overhaul, on Thursday that preserves benefits for most workers but cuts them for new teachers. The move was done in response to one of the worst-funded teacher retirement systems in the country at 56 percent and in defiance of a powerful teachers union that vowed political retribution. "Our state deserves better", said first-year teacher Diane Young, who calls the lack of funding "an outright assault on public education".
Veronica McQueary, an elementary school teacher from Whitley County, says she feels like lawmakers don't care about public education.
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