11 months ago
On April 3, following the example of West Virginia counterparts, thousands of Oklahoma and Kentucky teachers have taken their protest to the streets. Determined educators took over every floor of the Oklahoma capitol building demanding an increase in education funding.
The teachers said they would continue the walkout until the legislative body dominated primarily by Republicans boosts the money for school resources. The protestors were holding the signs that read "Let's Start Funding" and "Fund our Future." So many people wished to speak to the officials that the capitol building was declared at capacity.
So, what are the teachers demanding? The protest agenda includes the demands to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and lawmakers to reinstate funding of education programs and supplies that has been reduced in the past decade. Many educators are disappointed over the lack of educational resources claiming that science and technology are taught with textbooks from the 1990s.
The Reasons for the Protests in Oklahoma and Kentucky
The Oklahoma protest was catalyzed by signing the legislation granting teachers an annual salary raise of $6,100. On average, Oklahoma teachers make approximately $45,276 a year, which is the lowest income across the USA. The teachers' union had demanded the raise of $10,000 a year per teacher and higher salaries for support staff. Also, the protesters demanded allocating $200 million in education funding over the next 3 years.
Many teachers have shown their tremendous dedication for the job, claiming they’d rather choose school funding than a pay raise. This is incredible, given the fact that some teachers have admitted working “three extra jobs to make ends meet and buy supplies for students.” Allocating $50 million to educational programs and supplies is foreseen in the newly-signed legislation. However, Gov. Fallin has warned the officials "can only do what [the] budget allows."
On April 4, Oklahoma lawmakers have approved the Internet sales tax measure. According to the REUTERS, the tax bill requires third-party vendors on internet websites to remit state sales taxes on purchases made by residents. On Thursday, the bill goes to the Senate, where expanding gaming at Native American casinos will be discussed as part of the $200 million education package.
It is currently being discussed whether repealing exemptions for capital gains taxes is a viable solution to the problem. The measures taken by the lawmakers are seen as a shift towards positive change. The Oklahoma teachers’ protests reflect the crisis caused by the insufficient public school spending. In 2016, Oklahoma ranked 47th nationwide in per-student expenditure.
The Kentucky teachers went out in the streets to voice their disagreement with the pension plan overhaul “done in backroom deals and without any say from them.” Under the bill awaiting the governor's signature, a hybrid pension plan will be introduced for new hires. What is more, the number of accrued sick days that veteran teachers can put toward retirement will be limited.
Like Oklahoma, Kentucky’s legislature is also Republican-dominated. It is said that the pension reform bill aims to cover a $41 billion pension costs deficit in the next 30 years. According to the teachers' union representatives, the reform is capable of generating only $300 million in savings over the indicated period of time.
The teachers were appalled by Gov. Bevin’s statement declaring that the state needs to be "fiscally responsible."
UPDATE: North Carolina Educators On Strike
May 16, 2018 was marked with a North Carolina teachers walk out. As of today, 6 US states have experienced teacher rallies. Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado and North Carolina have poor teacher compensation measures, stipulated by the state legislatures. Around 20,000 educators took part in the rally to protest unfair teaching conditions in downtown Raleigh. Due to the rally, over 40 school districts across NC cancelled classes, and more than a million students had a day off from class.
As reported by U.S. News & World Report, teachers in North Carolina might not get the same results as their colleagues from other US states. Since the new biennial budget has been set by the Republican state lawmakers, "many are quick to point out that teachers have already gotten five pay raises in a row." The estimated median teacher salary for 2019 is set at $53,000 (ranked 37th in the nation). However, the protestors at Wednesday's rally say that's not enough.
The results of teacher rallies in different states vary: in West Virginia, teachers and other state employees got a 5% pay raise and a freeze on raising health insurance premiums. In Arizona and Oklahoma, the teacher pay raises have been secured as well. In Kentucky, educators should see increases in per-student spending in the forthcoming budget.
To see the detailed map of the US teacher and student rallies, see the infographics below:
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