Kentucky teachers due back at Capitol over state budget

Tens of thousands of teachers planning massive rallies and classroom walkouts

'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 said on its website.

The funding would raise by $5,000 the pay of teachers starting out on their career, and provide a raise of almost $8,000 for one with 25 years' experience, lawmakers said.

Capitol Hill High School teachers Paige and Shaun Steele were among hundreds who gathered at Northeast Academy before marching to the statehouse to protest education funding.

Fallin on Monday praised the Oklahoma's GOP-led Legislature's achievement in approving part of what teacher's want. "They've given tax breaks to big corporations, defunded public schools, and said, 'What could go wrong?'" "We must be responsible not to neglect other areas of need in the state such as corrections and health and human services as we continue to consider additional education funding measures".

Despite the frustration and even anger, the mood inside Oklahoma's capitol was upbeat and something of an expo, with legislators offering hot coffee and bagels to protesting teachers and their supporters. Teachers in Arizona are now considering a strike over their demands for a 20 percent salary increase.

The protests and school closures were reminiscent of similar movements in states including West Virginia, where teachers went on strike to protest years of tax cuts that had left the state unable to fully fund schools, and Oklahoma, where teachers were set to go on strike Monday. "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE" and "EDUCATION = OUR FUTURE" as they walked about one mile to their destination. Whatever the decision, the Ponca City Public Schools Administration and Board of Education definitely support our teachers.

"At this point, we are continuing to protest until our voices are heard", said Gerry Brooks, principal at Liberty Elementary in Lexington.

Schools across Kentucky were closed, due either to spring break or to allow teachers and other school employees to attend the rally.

At the Kentucky demonstration, teachers chanted, "Stop the war on public education!"

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Main said some grassroots groups supporting teachers are planning to form a ring around the state capitol building early Monday to prevent lawmakers from entering and Bevin from signing the bill.

In addition to the outcry over the pension bill, teachers are also demanding more funding for schools to help pay for textbooks, technology and school programs.

Language arts teacher Lesley Buckner was reluctant to give lawmakers much credit.

Spotting a large paper cutter next to a host of hole punches on a table in a state Senate hallway, Tabitha McClanahan joked to her fellow pre-kindergarten teacher, Rebekah Anderson, "Can we take this?" They stay up late grading anyway.

On Friday, more than two dozen school districts closed after a rush of teachers called in sick following the passage of the pension bill.

Hazle said they were disappointed with some of the unprofessional rhetoric coming from some teachers.

Kentucky's Republican lawmakers passed a pension overhaul Thursday that preserves benefits for most workers but cuts them for new teachers. The move was done in response to one of the worst-funded public retirement systems in the country and in defiance of a powerful teachers union that vowed political retribution. Opponents objected that the pension changes were inserted into an unrelated bill without a chance for public input, and worry that the changes will discourage young people from joining the profession.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has not yet signed the bill, but last week tweeted his support, saying public workers owe "a deep debt of gratitude" to lawmakers who voted to pass it.

Oklahoma legislators last week approved, and Governor Mary Fallin signed into law, the state's first major tax hike in a quarter century - a $450 million revenue package meant to help fund teacher raises and avert a strike.

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