Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers are walking off the job Monday and holding rallies in their state capitols to pressure lawmakers.
Inspired by the West Virginia strike in which teachers demanded and got a pay raise from state leaders, a wave of other states including Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona are taking similar action. Educators are organizing and publicly pressuring state lawmakers over issues like education funding, teacher salaries and pension reform.
Teachers in Oklahoma are rallying for more education funding and salaries, and those in Kentucky will be marching over a controversial pension bill and the state budget.
Teachers plan to rally in Oklahoma City on Monday morning, which has resulted in the closure of several schools across the state, including Oklahoma Public Schools, its largest district.
It’s unclear how long the walkout may last.
“We will be back in the schools when our members tell us to,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association told CNN.
Teachers say they’ve reached a breaking point over education funding and salaries.
Last week, Oklahoma legislators approved a measure that includes a $6,100 pay raise for teachers. Priest said the pay raise is a “good starting point.”
The OEA had called for $10,000 pay raises for teachers over the next three years and $5,000 pay raises for full-time support professionals such as custodians, secretaries, bus drivers and food service workers. Oklahoma is among the bottom three states for teacher salaries .
“This isn’t just about teacher salaries,” David DuVall, executive director of OEA told CNN. “This is about funding our schools for our students,”
Priest told CNN that educators are working in classrooms without full sets of textbooks and that some of the books are more than 20 years old, affecting the quality of education for students.
Although House Bill 1010XX, which was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin last week, provides education funding, she said that the $50 million in the bill “will buy less than one textbook per student in Oklahoma.”
“We’ve been cut over 28% in the last 10 years in education funding, and our schools just can’t maintain all of the supplies, instructional materials, textbooks, even copy paper. Copies are limited in schools to maybe 30 a week,” she said.
In Kentucky, the rally begins 9 a.m. ET in Frankfort, and participants plan to march to the state Capitol. “Thousands” are expected to rally Monday as a result of the passage of the pension reform bill, Chris Main, spokesman for Kentucky Education Association, told CNN.
In a surprise move last week, the state lawmakers passed a pension reform bill by tucking the measure into a Senate bill that had previously been about sewage system.
Furious over the changes, educators called out of work sick or requested substitutes in protest on Friday, resulting in the closure of more than 20 Kentucky counties’ schools.
Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler encouraged teachers and students to rally against the bill Monday. She described the move by state lawmakers as “a bomb that exploded on public service.”
The bill, which overhauls the state’s pension, passed mostly on party lines and went to Gov. Matt Bevin, who supports reforming the system. State leaders say it’s critical to fix the pension crisis, which ranks as one of the worst in the US.
In addition to the outcry over the pension bill, teachers are also concerned about the state budget.
Many are worried that funding cuts could put teachers out of their jobs, reported CNN affiliate WAVE. And there’s also concerns about the state funding affecting textbooks, school programs and technology, reported CNN affiliate WLWT.