Thousands of Teachers in Red States Are Leading the Charge for Better School Funding

Educators in Kentucky and Oklahoma marched on their capitols today.

Teachers picket around the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City on Monday. Sue Ogrocki/AP

On Monday morning, tens of thousands of Oklahoma teachers stormed the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to approve better pay and more funding for their classrooms. At the same time, more than 800 miles away, a similar demonstration was under way: thousands of Kentucky teachers marched to Frankfort to rally against new changes to the state pension program and echo the call from their Oklahoma peers and educators across the country.

Inspired by the nine-day strike in West Virginia that ended in 5 percent raise for teachers, educators in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona have walked out of schools in recent weeks and headed to their state Capitols to urge legislators to demand adequate school funding after years of cuts. Monday’s protest prompted 200 Oklahoma schools to close.

Last week, Republican Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that raised teachers’ salaries by up to $6,100, depending on experience, by raising gas and oil taxes and adding tobacco for the first time since 1990—a departure from previous years of tax cuts from the deeply conservative state legislature. Oklahoma teachers are demanding a $10,000 raise to each teacher’s salary, a $5,000 increase for support staffers, and $200 million increase in school funding, over three years. 

https://twitter.com/Travis_Waldron/status/980846296117506049

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, teachers rallied outside the Capitol building while lawmakers debated a new budget that includes proposals for education cuts. On Friday, hundreds of teachers called in sick and shuttered schools in 26 districts after the Kentucky legislature quickly passed a 291-page bill that cut public employee pensions and capped the number of sick leave they can use for retirement. The bill awaits the signature of Gov. Matt Bevin, who last week tweeted that Kentuckians owe a “deep debt of gratitude” to lawmakers who voted for the bill. Kentucky attorney general Andy Beshear says that he would sue to block the pension changes, and the statewide teachers’ union has pledged to join such a lawsuit. Because of the rally, 25 school districts out of the state’s 120 were closed on Monday. (The remaining districts were closed for spring break.)

 

It’s unclear how long the teachers’ protests will continue. Oklahoma City and at least 50 other districts are closed Tuesday due to continued demonstrations, and Oklahoma Education Association president Alicia Priest told the crowd at the rally that educators would continue to press lawmakers to heed their demands this week. Teachers in Arizona could also take action soon: Educators there have demanded 20 percent salary raises and more education funding. They are threatening to strike if their demands are not met. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said last week that a pay raise will not happen this year.

Morgan Walker, a chemistry teacher at Rockcastle County High School in Kentucky, told Mother Jones that her motivation for protesting is simple. “This isn’t just about pensions. This isn’t just about salaries or money,” she says. “This is about kids.” 

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.