Educators from across the state, including southern Oklahoma, descended on the steps of the State Capitol Monday urging lawmakers to make public school funding a priority.
Waving signs that read “Testing: Too Much Time, Too Much Money,” and “678,000 Reasons to Fund Education,” teachers, administrators, parents and some students, participated in the rally organized by the Oklahoma Education Coalition.
Greenville Public School Superintendent Jason Midkiff, who attended the rally along with several teachers and staff from the Love County school district, said it was a moving experience.
“It was neat to see so many teachers fired up about their profession and what is going on in education,” Midkiff said. “They were out there making a stand for the kids.” About 100 teachers and staff members from Lone Grove Public Schools made the trip to Oklahoma City after the district made a change to the calendar allowing yesterday to be a professional day with classes cancelled for students, said Superintendent Todd Garrison.
“It was nice to see the turnout, although you almost hate to say that. We had to take things in our own hands,” Garrison said. “I think it was a sign. The fact of the matter is teachers are typically the ones that work in the classroom and don’t get involved in things like this. To have that sheer volume of people that came out to support, speaks volumes of the frustration level and the call for a change.” The crowd began to arrive at the Capitol before 10 a.m. Over the course of the day, 10 speakers addressed the crowd, including two lawmakers, the president of the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association, the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, the executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute and two students.
The speakers urged the state legislature to better fund public education and for all in attendance to talk with lawmakers following the rally. Some speakers, like David Blatt, the executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, addressed solutions to end funding cuts in education.
"For years we've been cutting taxes and our taxes are the lowest they've been for decades." Blatt remarked. "Yet this year, the Governor and legislators are again proposing income tax cuts. If we cut the top income tax rate a quarter-point, the average Oklahoma family would save $29 and many of you would get nothing at all. Yet we'd have some $120 million less to take care of our schools, public safety, and other critical needs." The Oklahoma Education Coalition cites many studies that show funding has dwindled for public education while enrollment numbers continue to grow in the Sooner state.
A report, by the Center on Budget and Public Policy, found that Oklahoma's funding for schools had shrunk nearly 23 percent, or by $810 per student, since 2008.
The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration says there has been an increase of more than 40,000 students in the state since 2008.
Garrison said the rally's speakers also brought up other issues such as teacher pay, the A-F grading scale, and state mandatory testing.
The rally was expected to draw a crowd of around 25,000, after many districts voted to call off classes Monday or rearrange school calendars, allowing teachers and staff the opportunity to attend the rally and speak with legislators.
Locally, Lone Grove was one district that changed the school calendar - moving a professional day scheduled for March 7 to Monday, allowing teachers and staff to attend the rally.
"Our staff was very appreciative of the opportunity to participate and it worked out well for the schedule," Garrison said. "We did offer professional development here (at Lone Grove) for those who couldn't go and had other obligations." Greenville Public Schools already had the day off, but teachers and staff made the decision to attend the rally on their own time, Midkiff said.
Dickson Public School's school board also granted a request from Superintendent Larry Case to allow one to two representatives from each Dickson school building to attend the rally.