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Oklahoma And Kentucky Teachers Go On Strike, Demanding More Education Funding


Teachers are protesting in the state capitols of Oklahoma and Kentucky, as heard here.


UNIDENTIFIED TEACHERS: (Singing) We're not going to take it anymore.

CORNISH: The teachers went to pressure lawmakers about what they say are unfair changes to their pensions. They're hoping to build on the success of educators in West Virginia who walked off the job for nine days starting in February and got the pay raise they wanted. Amanda Carter teaches middle school in Rowan County. She told Kentucky Public Radio she's worried about the future.

AMANDA CARTER: I love my state, but right now I feel like they're kind of abandoning us or they don't care about education.

CORNISH: In Oklahoma today there was a similar scene as tens of thousands of teachers there walked off the job and rallied at the state Capitol. They got a pay raise last week, but they want more, as StateImpact Oklahoma's Emily Wendler reports.

EMILY WENDLER, BYLINE: The state Capitol in Oklahoma was packed inside and out today. Teachers clutched signs saying funding now or pay back in November and straight out of funding. Barbara Crisp is an elementary reading specialist for Tulsa Public Schools. She had a sign around her neck with a big picture of empty bookshelves. She says that's all her district could give her when she started working there - empty shelves.

BARBARA CRISP: That's what kind of reading resource room I was given. And through community donations and personal finances we were able to get all those books for it so our learners had books to read with.

WENDLER: Crisp says that's why she's at the Oklahoma Capitol today - to ask lawmakers for more funding for her classroom and all the other ones in the state.

CRISP: It's about making sure I don't need these kind of donations to get reading resources and classroom resources for our education system.

WENDLER: Crisp appreciates the raise that lawmakers approved week but said it wasn't fair. She says it's not fair she got a raise, but there was no extra funding for schools to help students. Christina Wertz is a fourth grade teacher in Bixby, Okla.

CHRISTINA WERTZ: I'm very grateful for our raise. But it will still be hard to keep quality teachers if our environment is challenging with large class sizes.

WENDLER: In some classrooms, teachers say the textbooks they're forced to use are 30 years old. Others don't have enough chairs for all the kids in their class. But increasing funding for the classroom would likely require lawmakers to raise taxes, and that is something difficult to do in Oklahoma. When state lawmakers raised taxes last week to fund the teacher pay raises, that was the first tax hike in 28 years. But some lawmakers like Republican State Representative Roger Ford says he'd be willing to do it.

ROGER FORD: If it supports education and core services. Not if it builds more state agencies.

WENDLER: Whether other conservative Republicans in the state are willing to go along is unclear. But what is clear - many teachers here today are saying they'll keep coming back to the Capitol to rally until it happens. For NPR News, I'm Emily Wendler in Oklahoma City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

In graduate school at the University of Montana, Emily Wendler focused on Environmental Science and Natural Resource reporting with an emphasis on agriculture. About halfway through her Master’s program a professor introduced her to radio and she fell in love. She has since reported for KBGA, the University of Montana’s college radio station and Montana’s PBS Newsbrief. She was a finalist in a national in-depth radio reporting competition for an investigatory piece she produced on campus rape. She also produced in-depth reports on wind energy and local food for Montana Public Radio. She is very excited to be working in Oklahoma City, and you can hear her work on all things from education to agriculture right here on KOSU.