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Teacher rally at state capitol draws 25,000



Respect is what they demanded. Respect in the form of better pay, fewer standardized tests and increased funding.

“Things need to change,” said Janie Petersen, a councilor from Claremore Public Schools outside Tulsa. “Our [state leaders] don’t respect teachers, they don’t even respect the kids. It’s hurtful.”

Initial estimates put the crowd at over 25,000 for Monday’s rally put on by the Oklahoma Education Coalition. In a state where lawmakers have made the deepest cuts to education funding in the nation since 2008, educators from across Oklahoma hoped to spark change with the rally and meetings with legislators.

Talking points
Increased funding was just one talking point from the rally as the crowd spoke out against the increase in standardized tests.

“My eighth-graders take six standardized tests that they don’t get the results for until the next school year,” Ft. Gibson science teacher Tammy Delmedico said. “I’m so busy preparing them for a test that I don’t get to teach.”

Other issues advocated for included doing away with unnecessary tax breaks and increasing teacher pay.
Many of the teachers at the Capitol had been bused in with the blessing of their school district. However, other districts, including Oklahoma City Public Schools, were less than thrilled to have their teachers take a day off to attend the rally.

Ben Felder

Janie Petersen, a councilor from Claremore Middle School, held a sign during a teacher’s rally on March 31.

“I am not certain that the planned rally is a convincing approach to advocate for more school funding,” Dave Lopez, interim superintendent in Oklahoma City said in a statement on Monday. “Our teachers can use a personal business day if they wish to participate in the rally, but as a district we will not take part.”

While the crowd appeared partisan against the Republican-led statehouse, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle offered words of support for the cause.

“I support more money for K-12 education,” said Gov. Mary Fallin, who was in Washington D.C. on Monday. “Last year, $120 million new dollars for education. This year I have proposed $50 million more.”

Republican lawmakers have highlighted recent increases in funding, but Democrats say those increases haven’t brought funding to pre-recession levels.

Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, who is running for governor, had his campaign team at the rally in an effort to convince teachers he was the candidate who could improve education. A flier from the Dorman campaign promised reduced class sizes, increased funding and protecting teacher’s pensions.

Democrats and Republicans might agree on the need for more funding, but they have competing viewpoints on how to raise the additional money.

The right-leaning think tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) argues that the problem is a mismanagement of the money the state is already spending on education. OCPA officials were at the capitol during the rally and advocated for better accountability and less money to administrators.

“We think it’s an allocation of resources problem,” OCPA vice president for policy Jonathan Small said. “Not enough of the money that is available is going to core academic areas and core teaching.”

Small also said the claim that Oklahoma has cut the most education funding in the nation since 2008 — according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — is based on a flawed view. Accounting for cost of living and complete education spending, Oklahoma is nowhere near the top, Small said.

With the legislative session continuing for a couple more months and a budget yet to be finalized, whether Monday’s rally will sway lawmakers remains to be seen. But before the rally concluded, many teachers promised a return to the Capitol if things didn’t change.

“We’ll be back,” Petersen said. “This is just a drop in the bucket for what the potential is of people who are tired of it.”

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