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The Fight for Education: Teachers and Students in Oklahoma

The date is April 12th, 2018, and the state of Oklahoma is 49th in the nation in terms of educational and teacher funding. Science labs can’t afford materials as basic as plastic pipettes and replacement glass beakers, textbooks are missing pages and covers and covered in obscene writing. 

 

“We must support education… It’s an investment in our future, and we can’t afford not to do this now.”

 

History books don’t mention Barack Obama, and extracurricular activities are dwindling in number as the days go by and funding slowly decreases. Teachers are emergency-certified to teach AP and IB courses, and coaches replace credible teachers in the classroom. Dave Ramsey the financial guru teaches financial literacy from a tape instead of a real teacher, and the students, with an average of over 30 per classroom, suffer.

 

Protesters demand reduced cuts to classroom funding, which has left many schools lacking resources necessary for learning. (Bailey Fortenbaugh for Ingress)

 

The result of over a decade of educational neglect by legislators is prevalent in Oklahoma. Teachers haven’t seen a raise in ten years, and, before protesting, there was no raise in sight. Instead of students, Oklahoma tends to favor the oil industry, especially now that that substantial base of its economy is suffering. Because of this, oil production has seen rapid tax cuts in order to save the industry. As a result of these tax reductions, Oklahoma’s education and stance in the nation is suffering. The proof is in the classrooms, where spaces with enough desks for 25 seat 35 on the floors and window sills. Students share the same, decade-old, cover-less textbooks. Ceramics classes cannot afford clay, and the program was shut down for a semester. Education is on the backburner- no longer a priority but a financial burden to the state of Oklahoma.

 

On April 2, Oklahoma said no more.

 

Citizens of Oklahoma, both young and old, protest and demand support for their failing education systems. (Bailey Fortenbaugh for Ingress)

 

Over 30,000 students, teachers, and members of the community marched on the capitol in Oklahoma City, made appointments to speak with lawmakers, sat in on legislative sessions, and rallied together for better education funding. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of picket signs faced the capitol. After ten years of stationary funding issues, history was in progress for education in Oklahoma.

 

A single mother and ex-teacher, Shelby Dorsey, proudly presented a sign that read,

 

“I made more money on welfare,”

 

outside the capitol. “I spent the last ten years on my education… and I had to leave the classroom because I was actually better off financially as a single mother on welfare than I was when I took my first teaching job,” she commented. “We must support education… It’s an investment in our future, and we can’t afford not to do this now.”

 

Many signs, such as single mother and ex-teacher Shelby Dorsey's (below), echo a similar sentiment: other jobs (and even no job) pay more than teaching children. (Bailey Fortenbaugh for Ingress)

Amy Burkhalter, a University of Central Oklahoma student and future teacher, paraded the capitol as well. “I am… fed up with Oklahoma’s attitude towards education. [Teachers] have been putting up with this lackluster performance of our legislature for years. We’re fed up with it. I’m here to get what I deserve.” she said. “I’m here to get not only the funding, but respect.”

 

A junior in high school from Bethany, Oklahoma, Avery Ware, is tired of watching her teachers suffering. “Our teachers deserve more; it’s time for us to stand up for what we believe in. This is going to take at least a week, I know, maybe more, but I am optimistic.” she stated.

 

Chanelle Cotton delivers an empowered poem to a crowd of hundreds demonstrating support for educators. (Bailey Fortenbaugh for Ingress)

 

Chanelle Cotton, a substitute teacher, presented a moving poem on stage in front of the entire protest repeating the mantra,

 

“Hearts stay open.”

 

Her poem artistically and passionately described the climate of education in the state and its message resonated with the audience. “I am here to stand in the gap with the teachers and the students, and release the glory of God,” she declared, speaking of the religious themes in her poem. “I wrote it three years ago… God always writes things for the time, and He knew this was going to be the right time. I am saying what’s on God’s heart, and it’s been a long time coming,” Cotton said.

 

Song and dance underscore the support for the teachers prevalent at the rally. (Bailey Fortenbaugh for Ingress)

 

"This needs to last as long as it needs to to get the teachers paid. I don’t even care if it pushes back my graduation date."

 

Three charter school students, Penelope Miranda, Alex Castro, and Jesus Alvarez, picketed alongside public school employees and students in support of the cause, despite their differing education system. “Our school is a school and a college. It gives us the opportunity to graduate with an associates degree.” Miranda detailed.  “We aren’t as affected as other schools, but we still lack the funding the normal charter schools get because of our nature. Almost everything we have is out of our teacher’s pocket.”

 

“I’ve jumped around schools all my life, and I don’t think I would be the person I am today without the teachers I’ve had."

 

"I think this about the cause- charter school aside. To my knowledge, our professors weren’t even allowed to come to this protest.” Castro added. “I am only here because my classes are in the afternoon. This needs to last as long as it needs to to get the teachers paid. I don’t even care if it pushes back my graduation date.”

 

Creative signs and posters supply the protest with passionate arguments of those who have had enough of continuous cuts to teacher salaries. (Bailey Fortenbaugh for Ingress)

 

“I’ve jumped around schools all my life, and I don’t think I would be the person I am today without the teachers I’ve had. I still remember my middle school and elementary teachers and I want them to be paid more because they’ve made me who I am,” Alvarez contributed.

 

This unified walkout, similar to the one staged in West Virginia previously, has no definite end date and is set to continue until the demands of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) are met. Some of these requests include replacing the 50 million dollars created by tax repeals, to pass House Bill 1013xx that will release 22 million dollars that is currently held by the Senate, and to pass additional revenue to pay teachers, lower class sizes. Now in its second week, Oklahoma school districts will vote to stay closed so that protesting can continue until these demands are met.

 

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