Oklahoma teachers pressure state lawmakers for higher funding

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

 

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) - Teachers from across Oklahoma walked off the job for a third consecutive day on Wednesday, repeating their demands for higher pay and more spending on education.

 

Hundreds of teachers from dozens of districts, as well as parents and students, packed the state Capitol in Oklahoma City by mid-morning, Oklahoma Department of Public Safety officials said. They want lawmakers to pass a tax package that would raise another $200 million for schools.

 

"My books were old when I was in high school more than 15 years ago and chances are a lot of them are still being used today," Oklahoma City resident Ashley Morris said by telephone from the rally.

 

"Students just aren't getting what they need or deserve and that puts teachers in a tough situation," said Morris, whose roommate is a first-grade teacher who relies on a second job to pay her bills.

Other protests were held around the state near schools and along busy streets, with demonstrators holding up signs with such slogans as "35 is a speed limit, not a class size," and "Students, students what do you see? I see teachers standing up for me," playing off the well-known children's book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see?"

The state's two largest school districts, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, said classes will be canceled on Thursday as well.

The protests reflect rising discontent after years of sluggish or declining public school spending in Oklahoma, which ranked 47th among the 50 U.S. states in per-student expenditure, and 48th in average teacher salaries in 2016, according to the National Education Association.

The walkouts follow a two-week job action in West Virginia that prompted lawmakers to raise teachers' pay. Educators in Kentucky also demonstrated against years of stagnant or reduced budgets by a Republican-controlled legislature. Teachers in Arizona have threatened similar job actions.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives reconvened just after 3 p.m. on Wednesday, but does not have any education funding bills on its regular-session agenda. The Senate adjourned without taking any action regarding education funding.

Lindsay Burkhalter, an elementary school teacher with Ponca City Public Schools in north-central Oklahoma just 30 minutes south of the Kansas boarder, has unsuccessfully tried to meet with all of her region's lawmakers in Oklahoma City.

"We will be back tomorrow," she said by phone. "And we will keep coming back for as long as it takes." 

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Editing by Ben Klayman and Leslie Adler)

 
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