Chicago (AFP) – Teachers took to the streets in the US states of Kentucky and Oklahoma Monday, with tens of thousands set to rally to demand better pay and more funding for public schools.
Classrooms in both states were shuttered as teachers took to the streets. In some cases, districts were on a scheduled holiday, while in others administrators were unable to find enough substitutes to keep doors open.
Some 30,000 educators were expected to take to the streets in the Midwestern state of Oklahoma, while thousands more were estimated to be at the Kentucky state capital Frankfort.
The protests are the latest show of political muscle by public school teachers, after a nine-day strike in West Virginia won teachers in that state their first pay raise in four years in March.
In Kentucky, a state in the center of the US heartland, the Courier-Journal newspaper reported that all 120 public school districts were closed. Most were on their Spring break vacation.
Kentucky teachers were protesting proposed cuts to pension benefits and demanding more funding for public education. A vocal crowd inside the state capital building chanted “public schools!” as legislators began their work day.
In Oklahoma, a recent pay bump averaging $6,100 a year was not enough to placate educators. Some teachers said they need second jobs — such as working as restaurants waiters or mowing lawns — to make ends meet.
Oklahoma is one of 12 states that slashed education funds following the 2008 recession and failed to restored those dollars as the economy improved, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington DC research and policy institute.
Lily Garcia, president of the National Education Association (NEA) — a group representing public school teachers, and college and university workers — said teachers did not trust state legislators to properly fund schools without public pressure.
“This is the result of a decade of underfunding public schools. Zero raises for these hard-working educators,” Garcia told CNN, speaking from the Oklahoma protest.
“If we don’t stand up today, and say, ‘our students are worth the investment,’ then it’s going to be too late,” she said.