Oklahoma Teachers Leading Charge For Change

The state Capitol in Kentucky filled with teachers protesting pension changes and demanding generous school funding Monday, and thousands of Oklahoma educators walked out of classrooms in the latest evidence of teacher rebellion in some Republican-led states. "We're going to say that our Legislature started the process and they have a moral obligation to invest in our children and our children's future".

"Stop the war on public education!" Kentucky teachers are already ineligible for Social Security benefits.

"We are having to compete with our surrounding states because we are 50th in teacher pay", said Ponca City Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Arrott.

Many Oklahoma schools were closed Monday and will remain shut Tuesday to honor the teacher protests.

And there's no end to the walkout in sight.

Jana Kelley, a special education teacher at Commerce Middle School, said her No. 1 reason for protesting is a lack of funding on a daily basis for her students. She want's the best for her home state but isn't willing to wait and doesn't plan to go back.

Oklahoma is among the bottom three states in teachers' salaries, and until Thursday, teachers had not received a raise in a decade. She hopes lawmakers can understand why funding is so crucial and how the teacher walkout will impact students.

"I will walk and knock on every door", Luking said, "to see that every one of these guys are defeated".

Chanting "enough is enough" and "we'll remember in November", the line of teachers and school employees stretched for blocks as they traveled toward the Capitol building holding signs.

The walkout took place following Gov. Mary Fallin's signing of a revenue bill that included tax increases on cigarettes, fuel and a gross production tax to generate more than $400 million to fund teacher raises, approximately $6,000 per teacher.

"We're still fighting for what we have asked, which is to pass the (gaming) ball and dice tax that's stuck in the Senate, fix the hole for the hotel/motel tax and asking that the governor signs the support staff raise", Hoffer said. Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest called the legislation a "down payment".

"We've had teachers leaving for years, and now it's getting so bad the kids want to leave, too", said Bartlesville teacher Brian Davis.

Third-grade teacher Abigail Woodage said she has 28 students in her classroom this year and her colleagues are also working with overcrowded classrooms. "Copies are limited in schools to maybe 30 a week".

The rally Monday is happening after hundreds of teachers called in sick Friday to protest last-minute changes to their pension system. "This is been going on an terrible long time, and we're not really being heard". Teachers have rallied several times during Kentucky's legislative session to protest the pension bill, but Monday was by far their biggest event.

Heather Caram, another teacher at the protest, told MSNBC that she would soon be leaving Oklahoma to accept a job in Georgia.

Waynelle Mason, 63, was among the state workers who showed up to support teachers -and rally for raises for state employees.

"There is not a member on that (school) board that fails to support educational opportunities for students not only in our school but really beyond that, across the state", he said of Stroud.

"It's just an outright assault on public education".

"If we only walk on Monday, we're going to get nowhere, like we did four years ago", Morey said. They argue it does not address funding shortages. Our kids deserve better.

  • Arturo Norris