Chicago (AFP) – A teachers’ protest entered its second day in Oklahoma Tuesday as US state lawmakers faced a spreading schoolhouse revolt against a decade of deep cuts to public education.
On Monday, tens of thousands of teachers and their supporters mobbed the steps of the state capitol in Oklahoma City while protesters in Kentucky simultaneously besieged that state’s legislature in the city of Frankfort.
“We’re back today,” said Doug Folks, spokesman for the Oklahoma Education Association, the teachers union.
Turnout was expected to be lighter — “but just as passionate,” he told AFP.
The protests are part of a wave sweeping Republican-dominated states where teachers have had to cope with low pay and cuts to public schools as lawmakers slashed spending.
Oklahoma teachers vowed to continue protests until their demands for more funding and better pay are met.
Their counterparts in Kentucky did not plan to protest Tuesday, because the state legislature was no longer in session, the Kentucky Education Association told AFP.
Demonstrators were inspired by their counterparts in West Virginia and Arizona, who also have protested. A nine-day strike last month won West Virginia’s teachers their first pay raise in four years.
Oklahoma lawmakers recently agreed to a rare tax increase to bump teacher pay by an average of $6,100 a year. But, that was not enough to placate educators, who insist cuts have been far deeper than what lawmakers have given back.
“Our teachers will be here,” Oklahoma Education Association president Alicia Priest told CNN on Tuesday, “Our community is behind us. We’ve got to get this done for the sake of our kids.”
The demonstrations have highlighted the teachers’ complaints — including salaries that were so low that some teachers needed second jobs, such as working as restaurant waiters or mowing lawns, to make ends meet.
Students at one rural Oklahoma school created an online video, pointing to leaking ceilings and displaying textbooks that fell apart when opened.
Oklahoma is one of 12 states that slashed education spending following the 2008 recession and failed to restore those funds as the economy improved, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington DC research and policy institute.