Oklahoma teachers will fight 'until hell freezes over' if needed

Teachers in Kentucky staged a'sickout on Friday over a recently passed pension reform measure

The teachers, many of whom have not seen a pay raise in a decade, are demanding a $10,000 pay increase over three years and $5,000 for support personnel. Teachers have rallied several times during Kentucky's legislative session to protest the pension bill, but Monday was by far their biggest event. Schools across the state were closed, due either to spring break or to allow teachers and other school employees to attend the rally.

"Now, we look like greedy teachers, that's what I've heard and that's not it at all", said Deidra Smith, a teacher in Guymon Public Schools. They're also anxious about cuts to education funding that they say have compromised the quality of education available to Oklahoma students. "Remember our name! We don't take defeat!" teachers chanted as they held up signs and walked a circle around the capitol. The building's capacity is around 1,000 people. Coming together, she said, demonstrates there is unity among parents, students, teachers, and supporters. "I mean, I really figured there would be mixed emotions".

Allyson Kubat, who teaches at Mustang High Scool, just southwest of Oklahoma City, said the textbooks student in her public speaking class use are so old that they advise them to ask librarians about "this new thing called the Internet" and explain how to use microfiche.

He said Republicans are hoping the money they put in the budget for education will prevent teacher and voter backlash when lawmakers face voters next November. Local districts will pay 62 percent, or $30.2 billion.

"Our kids get music for 20 minutes, one time a week", Poolaw added. With the kids out of school, different options on where they can go while parents are at work have been popping up.

Jade Vafadar, a ninth and 10th grade English teacher, said she took a personal day Tuesday but wasn't going to take one Wednesday.

"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", she said.

The job action reflected rising discontent with years of sluggish or declining public school spending in Oklahoma, which ranked 47th among all 50 states in per-student expenditures and 48th in average teacher salaries in 2016, according to the National Education Association.

Some teachers said their salaries were so low that they needed second jobs - such as working as restaurant waiters or mowing lawns - to make ends meet.

In more than two-thirds of the incidents, the student was suspended for the remainder of the school year.

Oklahoma is dealing with a severe teacher shortage, and many districts have moved to four-day school weeks in order to save money. Churches and organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Girl Scouts are offering daycare or camp-style accommodations.

Most school districts around the state remained closed for the day, while many went ahead and announced they would remain closed for at least the rest of the week.

Thousands of teachers rallied at the state Capitol on Monday just days after Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation increasing taxes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production to provide teachers with raises of about $6,100, or 15 to 18 percent.

In addition to the raises, lawmakers have already passed next year's education budget, which increased education spending to $2.9 billion - a almost 20 percent increase from current levels.

In Kentucky, teachers were outraged after the Republican-led Legislature quickly introduced and passed a pension reform bill last week that - among other measures - would give lawmakers the power to adjust the pension plans of new teachers.

The bill has yet to be signed by Governor Matt Bevin, who tweeted on Thursday that lawmakers "voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road".

"Out of the blue, on the intercom, they just say, 'lockdown procedures, '" Rhodes said.

Jansen reported from Washington.



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