The teachers’ movement that started in West Virginia is gaining momentum as thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky walked off the job and filled their state capitols April 2 to protest cuts in public school funding, pay, and benefits.
Teachers in Oklahoma haven’t had a raise in 10 years, and new teachers in Kentucky had their pensions eliminated by state lawmakers without any debate or input from workers. Many teachers have to work several jobs to pay the bills.
The lack of funding has resulted in big class sizes. A third-grade teacher in Tulsa reported seeing 40 special ed students in one class room. Schools also don’t have enough textbooks, some of which are more than 20 years old.
"We've been cut over 28% in the last 10 years in education funding, and our schools just can't maintain all of the supplies, instructional materials, textbooks, even copy paper," said Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest.
Priest said a new law adding $50 million in education funding is not enough – it "will buy less than one textbook per student in Oklahoma."
AFGE stands in solidarity with the striking teachers who are speaking out for change.
“Teachers across this country are telling lawmakers that our children deserve well-funded schools, with decent class sizes, up-to-date textbooks and computers, furniture that isn’t falling apart, and regular classes in art, music, and physical education,” said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. “They need teachers who aren’t exhausted from having to moonlight with extra jobs to make ends meet for their own families.”
“Our teachers and our children deserve much better, and we are indebted to the teachers who have taken great risks to force attention to this most important issue,” he added.
AFGE also applauds West Virginia’s teachers and school staff who have inspired teachers in other communities to speak out and demand better conditions for themselves and the children they teach. Like all working people employed in the public and private sectors, teachers and their families have seen their living standards decline while all the benefits of economic growth are grabbed by the wealthiest corporations and individuals.