US teachers’ protest in Oklahoma enters second week

Kids join the teachers’ rally at the state capitol in Oklahoma City, April 4, 2018
AFP

Chicago (AFP) – Protests by Oklahoma teachers entered a second week Monday as lawmakers grappled with a movement that has shuttered schools and brought attention to subpar conditions in the US state’s struggling public education system.

Teachers, students and other protesters returned to the capital Oklahoma City bright and early Monday to keep the pressure on the Republican dominated legislature.

The confrontation has brought tens of thousands of demonstrators to the state capitol over the past week and forced the closure of hundreds of schools across the conservative state in the US heartland. 

Lawmakers are facing demands for a major down payment toward reversing a decade of funding cuts that teachers say has made Oklahoma schools among the worst funded in the country.  

While the state legislature recently gave teachers a raise, educators demanded another $200 million to repair degrading school buildings, buy textbooks, and improve the classroom experience. 

Lawmakers had previously authorized only a fraction of that amount, and the Republican-controlled legislature initially balked at the demands. But by the end of the week, they had approved more funding, totaling — by the teachers’ count — nearly half of what they are seeking.

“Because of the educators, parents and students who have taken to the Capitol this past week, the new funding for Oklahoma’s students nearly doubled to $92 million,” Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said Friday in a statement. 

With a majority of the public apparently behind them, teachers have vowed to continue their demonstration until more funding is approved. 

Priest identified two bills in the legislature that “can end this walkout.” 

The union is asking the governor to preserve a tax on motels and hotels, which the legislature wants to repeal, and for lawmakers to approve another bill that closes a tax loophole, providing an additional source of revenue. 

The protests have brought attention not only to the physical deterioration of state public schools but also to the plight of teachers, who have had to take multiple jobs to make ends meet.

The Oklahoma protest follows similar teacher revolts in West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona — all Republican-dominated states.

West Virginia teachers got their first pay raise in four years last month after a nine-day strike.  

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