A month after teachers in West Virginia went on a successful strike for higher wages, tens of thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky will follow suit by attending rallies in their state capitals and demanding higher wages and better resources. These protests come just one week after 2,500 teachers in Phoenix, Arizona demonstrated at the capitol building for a 20 percent raise, indicating a wave of educator frustration sweeping across the country.
While the frustration is wide-spread, teachers in Kentucky are specifically protesting a bill that will overhaul their pension plan without their input. The new pension bill will not allow seasoned teachers to add accrued sick leave pay to their overall retirement benefits. While state legislators say the measure is a way of addressing a $41 billion difference between the estimated and actual costs of pensions over the next 30 years, teachers aren’t buying it. The proposed pension cut, they say, would only save about $100 million per decade — not even 75 percent of the difference.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma teachers are staging a walkout on Monday in objection to the state’s decision to only allocate $50 million to education programs and school supplies — this despite the fact that Oklahoma educators received a historically large pay raise in 2017. According to a report by ABC News, the Oklahoma Education Association has asked funding be boosted $200 million over the next three years.
Currently, many teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky are opting to move to states with higher overall pay. According to US News and World Report, Oklahoma has one of the worst Pre-K through 12 education systems in the country. Additionally, a teacher in Oklahoma makes only 67 percent of the standard salaries for comparably educated teachers in other states. That’s the sixth worst pay rate in the country. While teachers in Oklahoma are being underpaid, based on a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Kentucky is one of three states on a race to the bottom in general K through 12 education funding cuts. Since 2008 Kentucky’s education budget has been slashed by almost 16 percent.
It’s hard to say where the protests and walkouts will land Oklahoma and Kentucky educators, let alone how the fight for pay raises might translate to an increase in school resources overall. For his part, governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky sees no problem with the pension benefit cuts and even wrote a Tweet suggesting “Anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead” will actually be grateful to state legislators.
Tonight 49 members of the Kentucky House and 22 members of the Kentucky Senate voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road
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
— Governor Matt Bevin (2015-2019) (@GovMattBevin) March 30, 2018
As for Oklahoma, the situation moving forward is a lot worse. The school system, as well as the treatment of teachers in the state, is way below the obvious acceptable standard for education in a developed nation. One Oklahoma teacher, Laurissa Kovacs, who participated in the protest shared a chilling Facebook post illustrating the dilapidated state of the chairs in her classroom, many of which are cracked and riddled with holes.
“I’ve gotten a few new students and had to throw a bottom-less chair away so tomorrow I’m having to bring in a couple of folding chairs I have here at home. That’s why I’m walking out,” the post reads. “These kids deserve so much better than this.”
Ok here’s my story and why I’m walking out. This is my fourth year teaching in Oklahoma and after taxes and insurance I…