Okla., Kentucky schools close as teachers demand better pay

Thousands of educators, parents and students gathered outside the capitol in Kentucky in protest education budget cuts. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Education Association/Twitter

By Sara Shayanian – UPI

Thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky walked out of classrooms Monday to pressure lawmakers for higher wages and better resources.

In Oklahoma City, teachers rallied for the cause and forced the closure of about 200 schools in the state. Union officials say the walkout is expected to last one day.

“There is a disturbing common message: more and more people … are saying, ‘I don’t know if I can AFFORD to do the world’s most important work,” Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, said in a statement.

Robyn Waldrop, a kindergarten teacher from Putnam City Schools, said she must work several jobs, including tutoring and working at a farmers market.

Waldrop’s daughter, Lauren, held a sign that read, “My mom shouldn’t have to work two jobs to support my family and yours.”

In Kentucky, teachers gathered at the state capitol in Frankfort to demand Gov. Matt Bevin veto a controversial bill passed last week that made significant changes to educators’ pensions.

“We have no choice but to be here,” Jeffrey Peeno, a Kenton County art teacher, said. “We have to represent what we do. When they pass this with the sewage bill, it tells us exactly what we need to know about what they think of us.”

Teachers filled the halls of the capitol with shouts of “Vote them out!” and “Enough is enough!” Many signs took aim at Bevin, who has accused teachers of “selfish” and “thuggish” behavior for opposing the pension overhaul plans.

“We will be back in the schools when our members tell us to,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, told CNN earlier.

Priest said the organization is asking for teachers to receive a pay raise of $10,000 per year, as well as additional funding to the tune of $200 million over the next three years.

“It’s not about teacher pay raises. It’s not about being greedy and needing what I need. It’s me seeing what my kids need and recognizing that I can only do so much in the classroom,” David Walls, a seventh-grade teacher in Moore, Okla., told ABC News.

Earlier this month, teachers in West Virginia were given a 5 percent raise after nearly two weeks of a school shutdown — which inspired other educators to do the same.

Kentucky’s GOP-controlled legislature said the pension reform bill was crafted to help the state cover a $41 billion shortfall in pension costs over the next 30 years. Educators say the bill cuts into their futures too much and would only generate $300 million in savings.

As many as 10,000 teachers, parents and students are expected to attend Monday’s demonstration in Frankfort. At least two Kentucky districts were forced to close Friday due to teacher absences.

Bevin, a Republican who has not announced whether he will sign the legislation, tweeted in support of the pension bill, saying public workers owe “a deep debt of gratitude” to lawmakers.

“Forty-nine members of the Kentucky House and 22 members of the Kentucky Senate voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road,” Bevin tweeted. “Anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead owes a deep debt of gratitude to these 71 men & women who did the right thing.”

Related UPI Stories