Teachers in the US states of Oklahoma and Kentucky are protesting over a range of issues from funding to benefits.
In Oklahoma, teachers walked out of the classroom on Monday to call for better funding and salaries.
“We’ve all heard stories from students, parents, and teachers affected by eleven years of cuts to our classrooms,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said in a Facebook video message on the eve of the walkout.
“They see broken chairs in class, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together, and class sizes that have ballooned.
“Teachers are so drastically underpaid they are forced to donate plasma, work multiple jobs, and go to food pantries to provide for their families. Oklahoma is better than this.”
The protests were the latest by teachers from across the US who say they “can’t wait any longer” and have forced schools to shut down in an effort to bring about change to the education systems in their states.
The Oklahoma protest shut down public schools across the state, and teachers vowed to remain on the picket line until their demands are met.
Priest recently told CNN that a $6,100 teacher pay rise passed by state legislators last week was “a good starting point”, but they would only go back to the classroom “when our members tell us to”.
Oklahoma teachers are demanding a $10,000 pay rise for teachers over the next three years, a $5,000 raise for school workers and the restoration of millions of dollars cut from state budgets in recent years.
“Public education FUNDing is important: how our students that you care about their future,” Tiffany Hile, a first-grade teacher from Oklahoma, tweeted last week.
Public education FUNDing is important; show our students that you care about their future. #fixitfriday #okwalk4kids #okleg #oklaed @okea @neatoday @smalley101 @DellKerbs @RepJoshCockroft @ShawneeTeachers @ShawneeSup
— Tiffany Hile (@ms_tiffanyhile) March 23, 2018
Retired teacher Claudia Swisher tweeted that Oklahoma teachers “are the poorest-paid. They show up and teach our kids every day anyway. They buy books and supplies anyway. They stay up late grading anyway. They are fighting for our kids.”
#oklaed teachers are poorest-paid. They show up and teach our kids every day anyway. They buy books and supplies anyway. They stay up late grading anyway. They are fighting for our kids. Please. Join. Us. https://t.co/eUD41kkryz
— Claudia Swisher, NBCT, Re-Renewed (@ClaudiaSwisher) March 20, 2018
According to local media, the average salary for a teacher in Oklahoma was $45,276 in 2016 – one of the lowest in the country. State funding for education has also declined more than 28 percent per student over the past 10 years.
“Oklahoma children deserve better than a legislature that places them at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education funding,” the Oklahoma Education Association said on its website.
Thousands are also expected to rally in Kentucky against a pension reform bill, which was passed as part of a measure that was initially about sewage, last week. On Friday, teachers shut down a number of schools by calling in sick in what was described as a ‘sickout’ on social media.
The protests in Oklahoma and Kentucky come about a month after West Virginia teachers went on strike for nine days to call for higher wages, better benefits and increased incentives to help fill the roughly 700 teacher vacancies in the state.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed an agreement giving teachers and about 10,000 support staff members a five percent pay increase.
Teachers in Arizona have also threatened to strike over their salaries, local media reported. Dozens have been rallying in the state capitol to demand a 20 percent pay increase.