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Oklahoma teachers who just got raises rally for more funding

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Teachers picket around the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City Monday as teachers rally against low school funding

Thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky walked out of classrooms Monday to pressure lawmakers for higher wages and better resources. "Funding public education adequately is a fight that we must win because it's the right thing for our kids, for our economy and for America".

Kentucky teachers were primarily protesting proposed changes to pension benefits and demanding more funding for public education.

In Oklahoma, with the third-lowest teacher salaries among the 50 US states, the protesters said funding concessions made by state lawmakers last week were not big enough to improve education there.

Oklahoma ranks among the worst states in the country in terms of teacher salary.

Oklahoma legislators last week approved, and Governor Mary Fallin signed into law, the state's first major tax hike in a quarter century - a $450 million revenue package meant to help fund teacher raises and avert a strike.

"I think if you looked at these disproportionately female professions, like teaching, people have basically been exploited for years because they care about kids", said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the unions representing the educators in West Virginia, which last month won a 5 percent pay increase. In a bright red state full of Republican fiscal hawks, their cries for higher pay were enough to force the first vote of its kind in a generation to raise taxes. "So I'm here to get supplies for the classroom, what the teachers need".

More than 100 educators of local districts in Oklahoma have joined the march in Oklahoma City. In 2016, the state placed 49th among all states plus the District of Columbia for average teacher salary, according to a National Education Association ranking.

Other districts reported a similar process of polling and responding to teachers' direction on which course to take Monday.

Teachers also oppose financing proposals for privately run, publicly financed charter schools.

Supporters of teachers wave at passing cars from an overpass at the state Capitol during a teacher's rally in Oklahoma City Monday
Supporters of teachers wave at passing cars from an overpass at the state Capitol during a teacher's rally in Oklahoma City Monday

The Monday walkout and protest in Oklahoma come just days after Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation increasing taxes to provide teachers with raises in Oklahoma, where teachers are among the lowest paid in the U.S. Oklahoma City Public Schools - the largest school district in the state - has already canceled classes for Tuesday. "I've thought about moving to another state where we might be respected more", McQueary said.

In Oklahoma City, teachers rallied for the cause and forced the closure of about 200 schools in the state.

"This isn't just about teacher salaries", David DuVall, executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, told CNN. Salaries for teachers in West Virginia ranked 48th in the nation when they chose to strike, according to the National Education Association, the country's largest teacher's union.

OEA has three demands that it says would stop the teacher walkout: find the $50 million in revenue the Legislature repealed last week, pass a bill that allows "ball and dice" gambling, and pass additional revenue to fund education.

The rally is happening after hundreds of teachers called in sick Friday to protest last-minute changes to their pension system. With the end of Kentucky's legislative session looming, lawmakers returned to the capital Monday to consider new tax legislation and a budget bill that held the potential for further cuts to public education spending.

"It's just one more broken promise that our educators have seen over the last 10 years", Priest said. But teachers' union officials said the pension overhaul would only generate $300 million in savings over the next three decades.

Main said some grassroots groups supporting teachers are planning to form a ring around the state capitol building early Monday to prevent lawmakers from entering and Bevin from signing the bill.

He said it was a close vote, but the outcome likely was tipped toward remaining open by the funding passed by the Legislature last week.

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