An estimated 25,000 teachers and others from across the state, many wearing red shirts and waving signs and banners, swarmed the state Capitol on Monday to demand more money for public education.
“We are being asked to do more and more in education every year with less money,” said Debra Robins, one of about 140 teachers from Newcastle Public Schools who rode buses to the midmorning rally. “We need the help. We love what we do. We love teaching, but we want to be able to do it right.”
Appropriations to public schools are about $200 million less than in 2009, although there are about 40,000 more public school students than there were five years ago, according to statistics from the Oklahoma Education Coalition.
Many of those at the rally — the likes of which had not been seen since thousands attended a demonstration 24 years ago in support of an education reform bill known as House Bill 1017 — had signs stating: “678,000 Reasons to Fund Education.” That’s the number of students enrolled in Oklahoma’s public schools.
Sarah Caldwell, a 30-year-old teacher in the Midwest City-Del City school district, expressed her frustration with budget cuts and classroom overcrowding.
Teachers, she said, are not the enemy.
“I want this profession to be everything that it can be, that it should be,” Caldwell said. “And so I’m here to make sure that our legislators know what we want — what we need for our students.”
Caldwell, who stood shoulder to shoulder with administrators, parents and children, said it’s time for lawmakers to start taking teachers seriously.
“Sure, I would love another couple of bucks in my pocket,” she said. “But my students would really like technology in the classroom, adequate supplies, textbooks, all of that.”
Oklahoma City Public Schools, the state’s largest district with 46,000 students, did not formally participate in the rally, but teachers who did were allowed to use a personal business day.
Interim Superintendent Dave Lopez cited too many days of missed instruction as one reason for not attending.
“Our students have missed a significant amount of instructional time this year due to inclement weather days, and I am not certain that the planned rally is a convincing approach to advocate for more school funding,” Lopez said.
While district leaders in Tulsa and Broken Arrow closed schools so teachers could attend the rally, metro-area districts in Edmond, Norman and Moore, and the Putnam City school district, remained open but gave teachers the option to attend.
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“We’ve all watched legislators pretend to feel sorry for us and try to ease their own guilt through educational grants and foundations. But why should we have to take our time to fill out an application, jump through hoops, just to obtain the meager funds and materials that should be available for the asking? They are making a choice, and many of our elected officials are choosing on the wrong side of history.”
2014 Oklahoma Teacher
“The funding needs to be reallocated. Education needs to be a priority in this state. Legislators need to reconsider how they are allocating funds in the budget and put more money for our children.”
“I personally am tired of seeing Oklahoma on the bottom of every list that is ever put out. We’re at the bottom of the list in education. If they want to improve every facet of living in Oklahoma, the best way to do that is to start with the education system. We need to educate our children; we need to have the money to educate our children. There’s just no other way to get things done.”