Oklahoma teachers demand more money in 2nd day of strike

Published 7:27 am Wednesday, April 4, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY — Hundreds of teachers walked out of classrooms and crammed into the Oklahoma Capitol for a second day on Tuesday, shouting “Where’s our money?” to demand more aid for public schools, amid a rebellion of educators in Republican-led states across the country.

Rowdy teachers booed lawmakers when the Oklahoma House adjourned. House officials initially called on state troopers to clear the gallery of protesting teachers but later backed off. Education advocates filled the Capitol to capacity, and troopers limited access to the building.

Leaders of the state largest teachers’ union, the Oklahoma Education Association, said the strike would continue a third day on Wednesday. School districts in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Edmond, Norman and other communities across the state announced they would remain closed to honor the walkout.

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“We’re going to pack the Capitol,” union President Alicia Priest said.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation last week granting 15 to 18 percent higher salaries to teachers. But some educators — who haven’t seen a pay increase in 10 years — say that isn’t good enough and walked out.

Fallin warned Monday that the state budget is tight and there are other critical needs besides education.

“We must be responsible not to neglect other areas of need in the state, such as corrections and health and human services, as we continue to consider additional education funding measures,” the Republican said.

But Priest said teachers reject the argument that there isn’t enough money to provide additional funds for classrooms. They urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would repeal the capital gains tax exemption, a measure that would yield up to $100 million.

“There’s revenue out there,” Priest said.

Democratic lawmaker Collin Walke said teachers should keep up the pressure.

“I think the Republican strategy is to wait the teachers out,” Walke said.

Oklahoma ranks 47th among states and the District of Columbia in public school revenue per student 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.

The demonstrations were inspired by West Virginia, where teachers walked out for nine days earlier this year and won a 5 percent increase in pay. Teachers in Arizona are now considering a strike over their demands for a 20 percent salary increase.

In Frankfort, Kentucky, the Legislature was not in session after teachers and other school employees held a massive rally at the Capitol Monday, chanting “Stop the war on public education.”

The Kentucky teachers are mad because Republican lawmakers passed a pension overhaul last week that cuts benefits for new teachers. 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.