The Slatest

Oklahoma and Kentucky Teachers to Protest Over Pay, Pensions, and School Funding

West Virginia teachers hold signs, saying things like, "We [heart] our students!," as they strike in Morgantown, West Virginia.
West Virginia teachers hold signs as they strike on March 2 in Morgantown, West Virginia. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Following the success of their colleagues in West Virginia, teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky gathered at their respective capitals on Monday to protest legislative action they say worsens or fails to address the funding problems of their schools.

Thousands of teachers are expected to gather at their state capital, closing schools across the state.

Around a month ago, teachers from every county in West Virginia went on strike, closing schools across the state. After nine days, the teachers successfully lobbied for a pay raise of 5 percent. Their success spurred threats of similar action by teachers in Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona.

Oklahoma teachers have already begun a strike, demanding pay raises and more funds for their schools, which have been hit over the past years by a series of budget cuts. According to the National Education Association, in 2016, Oklahoma ranked 49th in the nation for teacher salaries, behind West Virginia and ahead of Mississippi.

And according to the Washington Post, budget cuts to the schools have been so severe that many districts have adopted a four-day school week, while others have not been able to afford maintenance to repair broken heating systems.

The teachers on strike are now calling for $200 million in education funding, as well as pay raises of $10,000 over three years and $5,000 for other school staff.

According to the New York Times, in hopes of forestalling the strike, Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a major tax increase providing for a $5,000 pay raise for early career teachers and a nearly $8,000 raise for teachers with 25 years of experience, as well as around $50 million in additional funding for the schools. According to the Post, that pay raise was the first the state passed in a decade. And, according to the Oklahoman, the legislators voted to repeal a particular tax increase that would have been essential for the larger education funding. The teachers were not pleased.

“Oklahoma children deserve better than a legislature that places them at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education funding,” the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, wrote in a statement on its strike website. “For more than a decade, we’ve been asking our lawmakers to restore funding to our classrooms. We can’t wait any longer. The time has come for our lawmakers to make good on years of broken promises and pass a real plan that invests in students.”

On Monday, in an unrelated demonstration, Kentucky teachers also gathered at the state capital to demand the governor veto a bill overhauling their pension plan, according to ABC News. That plan, which the lawmakers said was meant to cover a multibillion-dollar shortfall in pension costs over the next three decades, will no longer allow teachers to include accrued sick leave pay in their calculations for retirement benefits, according to ABC News. The teachers unions argue that the reform will only save $300 million for the next three decades.

The teachers are planning to march from their union headquarters to the capitol building. On Friday, schools in 29 districts also closed as many teachers took sick days to protest the bill. These demonstrations followed yet another unrelated protest, this time in Arizona, where teachers were demanding a 20 percent raise.