Indiana teachers use their ‘outside voices’ to demand higher wages

Indiana teachers use their ‘outside voices’ to demand higher wages
By Bryan Woolston and Brendan O’Brien

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) – Thousands of red-clad Indiana teachers swarmed the state capitol building on Tuesday, chanting loudly to protest low salaries and evaluation policies and forcing half the state’s school districts to cancel classes for the day.

“Indiana legislators drew first blood against public education,” read one of the signs hoisted by Indiana State Teachers Association demonstrators wearing red hats and sweaters as they stood at the steps of the capitol.

The “Red for Ed” protest was the latest in a wave of work stoppages by U.S. educators. In 2018, teachers in Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma staged largely successful days-long strikes to demand higher salaries.

Teachers in Chicago and Los Angeles also went on strike this year and secured more resources, especially for underfunded schools.

Indiana teachers make an average of $51,000 a year, in the bottom third of U.S. states for teachers’ pay, according to the National Education Association, the country’s largest labor union. The state school system has about 1.2 million students.

Teachers in the Midwestern state are asking the Republican-controlled state legislature to commit $700 million this year to boost the average salary statewide to $60,000, near the national average.

Amid frigid temperatures, chanting protesters waved placards reading “I can’t stay for the day, I have to go to my second job,” and “It’s time to use our ‘outside voices.'”

The teachers’ union expected some 15,000 teachers to use personal days to walk off the job as Indiana’s state law blocks them from striking. The state’s department of education could not confirm the number of teachers who were expected to attend.

Still, so many teachers had signed up for the protest that half the state’s 289 school districts have canceled classes, the union said.

“It all comes back to one word, which is respect,” said union Vice President Jennifer Smith-Margraf. “Teaching and education in general are not respected the way they used to be.”

State teachers are asking lawmakers to prevent new standardized testing scores from counting against teacher and school evaluations for this school year. They are also seeking to repeal a new law that requires them to take private-sector jobs for a time to renew their teaching licenses.

Republican Governor Eric Holcomb set up a commission to provide recommendations on teachers’ salaries before the 2021 legislative session.

“Governor Holcomb has made finding long-term sustainable solutions to improve teacher compensation a top priority,” a spokeswoman said on Monday.

(Reporting by Bryan Woolston in Indianapolis and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone, Peter Cooney and Bernadette Baum)

‘More than just money’: Chicago parents warm to teachers’ contract demands

‘More than just money’: Chicago parents warm to teachers’ contract demands
By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Carmen Rodriguez, a life-long Chicagoan who lives on the city’s Southeast Side, sends her two children to a predominately Hispanic elementary school where she says teachers are struggling with class sizes of up to 40 students.

The crowded conditions at Virgil Grissom Elementary School makes Rodriguez, a 45-year-old stay-at-home mom, sympathetic to Chicago’s 25,000 teachers, who have authorized a strike against the public school system unless the two sides can reach a contract deal by Thursday.

In addition to wage increases, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is demanding more funding to ease overcrowded classrooms and hire more support staff, two perennial issues plaguing the third-largest U.S. school district.

“I don’t think the teachers are being unreasonable whatsoever, because they are fighting for more than just money,” she said.

Interviews with about two dozen parents of children in the system suggest Rodriguez’s point of view is widely shared, even though most parents are uncomfortable with the prospect of a strike. Thousands of teacher staged a one-day walkout in 2016 to protest the lack of a contract at that time and failures to stabilize the finances.

“They are fighting for the kids. Someone has to stand up for these things,” said yoga instructor Angela Steffensen, 34, after dropping her child off at school. “But a strike sucks for everybody.”

A strike would mark the latest in a recent wave of work stoppages in school districts across the United States in which demands for higher salaries and benefits have receded to the background.

Instead, in Chicago and elsewhere, teachers have emphasized the need for more resources for under-funded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice that resonates with parents, said Jon Shelton, a justice studies professor at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“There are a lot of eyes on this strike,” he said. If Chicago teachers are successful “it shows that this model of organizing and working with the community is a significant way to build power for teachers.”

The district has said it is making progress to cut classroom size and has offered to spend $10 million to provide 200 teaching assistants for the most overcrowded schools. It also pledged to double the number of social workers and nurses over the next five years as more qualified applicants and funding become available.

“We expressed a willingness to find solutions on these two core issues that would be written directly into the contract,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Janice Jackson, chief executive of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), said in a statement.

Overcrowding and a shortage of support staff are reflections of a systemic inequality throughout the system, according to many parents and educators.

CPS provides 67% of what it needs to educate its 361,000 students, according to Advance Illinois, an educational policy and advocacy organization.

To make up some of the difference, parent organizations in some schools, mostly in more affluent neighborhoods, provide additional funds.

As a consequence, the funding shortfall hits low-income and special-needs pupils the hardest, especially when it comes to class size and support staff, advocates and parents said.

“We are always getting the short end of the stick,” said Chamala Jordan, 43, who lives on the South Side. “There is always an explanation from CPS for why class sizes are astronomic and there is always an excuse to why they are under resourced.”

Nearly one in four elementary classrooms have 35 or more students. Many of those are in low income and minority schools, the union said, citing district data.

Teachers want mandatory maximums of 20 students in kindergarten classrooms, 24 children in first through third grade classes and 28 in grades fourth through eighth and 28 for core classes in high school. The current limits are higher and principals are allowed to deviate from them.

The union wants the number of social workers, counselors and other clinicians to meet the recommended ratios set by each profession’s national associations.

The district has a single guidance counselor for every 475 students, on par with the national ratio. But for nurses and social workers, it lags the recommendations badly.

Even so, not all parents are sympathetic with the teachers.

Willie Preston, a 34-year-old father of six, sees bad blood between the teachers union and the mayor behind the strike threat. Lightfoot won election last April without the union’s endorsement.

“They are using our children as leverage, bargaining chips,” he said.

Despite the political overtones, many parents said they have focused on the harm that overcrowding and the lack of support staff does to their children’s education.

“Smaller classrooms mean more attention to your child and more attention means that they learn better … and they can excel,” said Stefanie Gambrell, 48, the mother of a child in a CPS school.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty and Nick Zieminski)

Florida teachers can arm themselves under new gun bill

FILE PHOTO: A selection of Glock pistols are seen for sale at the Pony Express Firearms shop in Parker, Colorado December 7, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Florida’s legislature on Wednesday passed a bill allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom, expanding a program launched after the deadly high school shooting in Parkland with the aim of preventing another such massacre.

Florida’s House of Representatives voted 65 to 47 to pass the bill after hours of debate over two days in which the Republican majority thwarted Democratic efforts to amend, stall or kill the measure. Florida’s Senate approved it 22 to 17 last week.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law, enabling school districts wishing to take part in the voluntary Guardian program to arm those teachers who pass a 144-hour training course.

On Feb. 14, 2018, a former student armed with a semiautomatic rifle opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.

President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association have argued an armed teacher could provide the best defense against a shooter bent on mass murder.

Opponents questioned whether the solution to gun violence should be the presence of even more guns and warned of the danger of a teacher misfiring during a crisis or police mistaking an armed teacher for the assailant.

Passage marks a victory for gun-rights advocates, who were on the defensive a year ago when Parkland students inspired nationwide protests in favor of gun control.

After the Parkland shooting, Florida lawmakers rushed through legislation that required schools to place at least one armed staff member or law-enforcement officer at each campus.

The law also imposed a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and raised the age limit for buying rifles from 18 to 21 – remarkable measures in a gun-friendly state.

Although last year’s law allowed some school personnel to carry weapons, guns were still banned from the classroom.

Backers of arming classroom teachers revived the issue this year, arguing that school shootings often erupt too quickly for law enforcement to respond.

In anticipation of passage, school employees in 40 of Florida’s 67 counties already enrolled in or planned to take the 144-hour course, a spokesman for the Speaker of the House said. Some counties have resolved not to participate in the Guardian program.

Florida’s gun-control advocates had made stopping the proposal a top priority, among them Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense, which is funded by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; additional reporting by Steve Gorman)

At least 18 people, mostly children, die in flash flood in Jordan

A child survivor is helped as residents and relatives gather outside a hospital near the Dead Sea, Jordan October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

DEAD SEA Jordan (Reuters) – At least 18 people, mainly schoolchildren and teachers, were killed on Thursday in a flash flood near Jordan’s Dead Sea that happened while they were on an outing, rescuers and hospital workers said.

Thirty-four people were rescued in a major operation involving police helicopters and hundreds of army troops, police chief Brigadier General Farid al Sharaa told state television. Some of those rescued were in a serious condition.

Many of those killed were children under 14. A number of families picnicking in the popular destination were also among the dead and injured, rescuers said, without giving a breakdown of numbers.

Hundreds of families and relatives converged on Shounah hospital a few kilometers from the resort area. Relatives sobbed and searched for details about the missing children, a witness said.

King Abdullah canceled a trip to Bahrain to follow the rescue operations, state media said.

Israel sent search-and-rescue helicopters to assist, an Israeli military statement said, adding the team dispatched at Amman’s request was operating on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.

Civil defense spokesman Captain Iyad al Omar told Reuters the number of casualties was expected to rise. Rescue workers using flashlights were searching the cliffs near the shore of the Dead Sea where bodies had been found.

A witness said a bus with 37 schoolchildren and seven teachers had been on a trip to the resort area when the raging flood waters swept them into a valley.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Alison Williams)

Texas leaders want more screening and more guns to prevent more shootings

Ten roses are left in memory of the victims killed in a shooting at the Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Texas political leaders are considering installing airport-style security at public schools and screening students for mental health issues as alternatives to gun control to thwart a repeat of last week’s deadly shooting at a Houston-area high school.

The focus on school security and mental health has emerged since the shooting because Republican Governor Greg Abbott is facing few calls to overhaul gun laws in a state where the majority of the electorate backs gun ownership. The governor’s office said he would hold roundtable discussions from Tuesday to focus on the best options.

Eight students and two teachers were killed when a 17-year-old student opened fire at Santa Fe High School last week in the latest mass shooting at a U.S. school.

Craig Bessent, an assistant superintendent of the Wylie Independent School District in Abilene, said in an interview that he will take part in the roundtable and that he favored more police or security officers and more screening of students as they entered school campuses.

He also supports arming some teachers as “a good first line of defense,” a position that President Donald Trump has advocated.

“There’s not just the one thing you can do that will stop this and be a cure-all,” Bessent said. “There’s not a single answer.”

The shooting at Santa Fe High School occurred about three months after 17 teenagers and staff were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, stoking the national debate over gun control.

About two-thirds of Texas Republicans believe if more people carried guns, the state would be safer, according to a statewide survey in late 2017 from the University of Texas and Texas Tribune.

The shooting rampage in Florida sparked a gun control campaign by students and parents that has piled on pressure nationwide for lawmakers to enact gun control legislation.

“Texas Republicans look at this tragedy and they do not see the gun as the problem,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “They see the person as the problem and security as the second problem.”

One of the state’s most prominent Republican leaders, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, said he wanted to limit entrances to schools and stagger class starting times to allow for searches. He acknowledged that such airport-style screening would carry a high cost for the thousands of school districts in the state.

The Republican-controlled legislature is out of session until January 2019, making it nearly impossible for the state to implement and fund any major changes that come out of this week’s three roundtable discussions.

“The roundtables are more political theater than anything else,” Jones said.

The governor has said he sees the roundtables as an essential step in coming up with a consensus approach to enhance school safety. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Political analysts said if Abbott wanted to implement changes already floated, such as adding more metal detectors in schools and allowing for court orders to remove firearms from a person who presents a danger, he would call for a special legislative session. Abbott has given no indication that he would do so.

Texas has 5.4 million students enrolled in its public schools and any changes it made statewide would be costly.

One program being run out of Texas Tech University in Lubbock to screen students who could harm themselves or others has Abbott’s attention. He said after the shooting that he wanted to use it across the state.

The program trains people, using FBI threat-assessment criteria, to go to schools and screen students, according to Billy Philips, an epidemiologist and director of the Office of Rural Health at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

About 42,000 students have been screened through the program, according to data provided by Texas Tech. About 1 percent of them were referred to licensed counselors.

“Roughly about a third of those that were triaged were for suicidal intention, and they’re mostly female; females act in, males act out,” Phillips said.

Before the shooting at Santa Fe High School, Texas Democrats had filed about 15 bills related to gun violence, almost all of which died when the legislative session ended last year. They included measures to buy back guns, improve gun safety education and create a lethal violence protective order to stop a potentially dangerous person from buying or possessing a firearm.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Liz Hampton and Erwin Seba in Santa Fe, Texas; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Frank McGurty)

Arizona governor signs bill to boost teachers’ wages amid strike

The U.S. and Arizona flags flutter in the wind in Fountain Hills, Arizona, U.S. on September 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – Arizona’s governor signed a budget bill on Thursday that will boost teachers’ wages by 20 percent over the next three years, after dozens of the state’s school districts canceled classes as part of a strike to demand pay raises.

Tens of thousands of Arizona teachers, whose pay is more than $10,000 below the national average of $59,000 per year, have held a week-long walkout that has been the largest teachers’ strike in U.S. history and has kept most of state’s 1.1 million public school students out of class.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state legislature worked through the night to pass the $10.4 billion budget. Outside, hundreds of red-clad teachers held a overnight rally, local media reported.

The bill allocates more than $600 million for salary increases, meaning teachers would get raises of nearly 10 percent this year and about five percent in each of the following two years.

“Arizona teachers have earned a raise, and this plan delivers,” Ducey said in a statement issued as he signed the bill. “This plan not only provides our teachers with a 20 percent increase in pay by school year 2020, it also provides millions in flexible dollars to improve our public education system,” added Ducey, a Republican.

The budget also includes about $371 million over five years to restore cuts imposed on education spending during the U.S. recession that ended in 2009, starting with $100 million this fiscal year, according to state officials. This figure is far less than the $1.1 billion teachers say has been cut from their budgets since the recession.

Although the budget bill was passed, districts in Phoenix, Tucson and Tempe, along with more than three dozen districts throughout the state, had already notified parents and local media that classes were canceled on Thursday, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper.

The protests are part of a national teacher action that began in West Virginia and spread to other Republican-controlled states, including Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Walkout organizers in Arizona had previously said they could not support the budget, but recognized it was likely the best offer they would get.

(Reporting by David Schwartz and Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry)

After walkouts, U.S. teachers eye elections for school funding gains

FILE PHOTO: Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

By Heide Brandes and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

OKLAHOMA CITY/TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – High school physics teacher Craig Hoxie filed to run for Oklahoma’s House of Representatives on Friday, a day after the end of a two-week teacher walkout that had pressed lawmakers for school funding.

“A week ago, I would have told you I wasn’t going to do it,” said the 48-year-old Army veteran who has worked in public schools for 18 years, as he drove to the state election board office to submit his paperwork to become a Democratic candidate in this fall’s election. “There is a funding crisis with all public services in our state.”

Teachers and parents in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona have staged collective actions in recent weeks, seeking higher wages and education spending. They say years of budget reductions have decimated public school systems in favor of tax cuts.

Protests in those Republican-dominated states have encouraged teachers unions and Democratic candidates who will try to capitalize on the outrage to score electoral victories. In November’s mid-term elections, 36 governorships and thousands of state legislative seats will be up for grabs.

“This transcends what has traditionally been viewed as blue states and red states,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which boasts 1.7 million members. “The deprivation has gotten so great that people are taking the risk to escalate their activism.”

The union, typically aligned with the Democratic Party, has targeted a number of key states with plans to mobilize in statehouse, gubernatorial and congressional elections this fall.

Nationwide, progressive causes have seen a surge of enthusiasm since Republican President Donald Trump’s election. Protesters have rallied on issues as wide ranging as gun control, gender equality, science and immigrants’ rights.

The Oklahoma walkout demonstrated the power of collective action to influence Republican lawmakers, as well as its limits. The legislature boosted annual education funding by about $450 million and raised teacher pay by an average of about $6,100, yet those figures remained short of the teachers’ demands.

The state’s largest union, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), declared victory and turned its attention to the fall elections to continue the fight for more funding. At least a dozen Oklahoma teachers are seeking office.

In remarks to the Tulsa County Democratic Party on Friday, OEA President Alicia Priest said local union chapters would form election committees to support pro-education candidates, while members will go door-to-door.

“We have to change and try something different,” she said of teachers choosing to run for office themselves.

Several Republican incumbents facing challenges from teacher candidates did not respond to calls for comment.

Sheri Guyse, 42, a parent with two children in Oklahoma public schools who participated in the walkout, pledged that come November, she would remember whose side lawmakers were on.

“A few of their demands were met, and of course that’s a step in the right direction, but the only thing I’m feeling really good about today is that there’s a big election in November where a lot of these legislators will lose their jobs,” she said.

A number of teachers have already won special legislative elections as Democrats in the last two years. Karen Gaddis, a retired teacher who ran on a largely pro-education platform, captured a seat near Tulsa that had been in Republican hands for more than 20 years.

“Things have gotten so bad out here, we’re like a third-world country,”” Gaddis said in a phone interview. She first ran and lost in 2016, but said she has sensed a shift this year as people have grown fed up with budget cuts.

“Education in particular was just being flushed down the toilet,” she said.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on statehouse races nationwide, said more than 50 educators are running in other states. The group said the 26 states in which Republicans control both the legislature and the governorship have seen an average 5 percent cut in education spending over the last decade.

In response, David James, a spokesman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, which supports that party in statehouse races, said, “It is sad and appalling for the Democrats to be coordinating a national protest effort with their longtime faculty room friends in the teachers unions to push a political agenda in the classroom, at the expense of the nation’s students.”

John Waldron, a social studies teacher, ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in Oklahoma in 2016. He is running again as a Democrat in 2018, this time for the state House of Representatives, and said the walkout gives him confidence this campaign will unfold differently.

“We’ve turned a whole generation of Oklahomans into political activists now,” he said.

(Reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa; Writing and additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)

Oklahoma teachers end nearly two-week walkout that shut schools

Protester march during a strike by Oklahoma educators demanding more school funding near the Oklahoma state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 9, 2018. Picture taken on April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Heide Brandes

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – Oklahoma’s largest teachers union on Thursday called off a nearly two-week walkout that shut public schools statewide, saying it had secured historic gains in education funding after school budgets were devastated by a decade of cuts.

The move came after the Republican-dominated legislature passed its first major tax hikes in a quarter century that raised about $450 million in revenue for education. Republican leaders said they had no plans to go as high as the $600 million being sought by educators.

“We absolutely have a victory for teachers,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, told a news conference.

“Our members are saying they want to go back to the classroom,” said Priest, whose union has about 40,000 members.

Some major districts have said they will resume classes on Monday.

The strike was part of a wave of actions by teachers in states that have some of the lowest per-student spending in the country. A West Virginia strike ended last month with a pay raise for teachers, and educators in Arizona protested before classes on Wednesday, without skipping work, to seek enhanced education funding.

The Oklahoma walkout began on April 2 and affected about 500,000 of the state’s 700,000 public school students.

Opinion surveys showed it had garnered wide support among Oklahoma voters, many of whom had seen firsthand how students at struggling schools had to share outdated and tattered textbooks and sometimes go to a four-day school week to help save districts money.

Oklahoma teachers, who were seeking a $10,000 annual wage hike over three years, will see an average annual pay raise of about $6,100 from the increased funding, lawmakers said.

In May 2017, their annual mean wage was $41,880, among the lowest in the country, compared with neighboring states such as Texas at $57,830 and Kansas at $50,470, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

School districts for the most part supported the teacher walk-out. But they began to run out of wiggle room to make up for lost time when the labor action threatened to extend the school year, piling pressure on teachers to return.

Low wages have created an exodus of educators, causing a teacher shortage in Oklahoma. As a result, school districts had to cut curricula and deploy nearly 2,000 emergency-certified instructors as a stop-gap measure.

(Reporting by Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

Oklahoma parents fret over childcare, testing as teachers strike

FILE PHOTO: Teachers rally outside the state Capitol for the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo

By Heide Brandes and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

OKLAHOMA CITY/TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) – Oklahoma parent Matt Reynolds backs a teachers’ strike that has shut schools statewide, but each day it drags on is another he has to pay for daycare for three of his children.

“I’m mad at the teachers for walking out, but I’m more mad at the government for forcing them to do this,” said Reynolds, a 51-year-old chef in Yukon.

Lawmakers and striking teachers remained at odds over the state’s financing of its public education on Thursday, the 11th day of a walkout that has affected about a half million students.

The standoff is testing the patience of parents, many of whom support the labor action after seeing firsthand the fallout from slashed education budgets. But they are weary of making special accommodations for their children, and worry about how the missed class time will affect upcoming state testing and national advanced placements exams.

Some parents said the strike that started on April 2 has made them consider private schools, home schooling or moving to a district with more secure funding. Many said the prospects of a prolonged strike would eventually lead them to lobby their local districts to return to class.

“I’m at the point where if education doesn’t get adequate funding, I’ll say screw it and home school my kids since we can’t afford to move,” said Lisa Snell, who has been forced to take her two children to work during the strike.

Snell’s empathy runs deep for the state’s teachers, who are among the worst paid educators in the United States.

She has been asked to provide pencils, crayons, paper and tissue for the struggling elementary school her children attend near Tahlequah in eastern Oklahoma. Her kids bring home school books in tatters and have to go shoeless in gym class to preserve the decaying floor, Snell said.

“I know what those teachers are going through,” Snell said. “It’s not just about raises.”

The main union in the strike is urging parents to make their voices heard by voting in this year’s midterm election for candidates who back increased spending, or have educators run for office.

Republicans, who dominate state politics, are appealing to conservative voters by saying they have done enough by raising education spending by more than 20 percent, and more spending would be wasteful.

PRESSURE EXPECTED TO MOUNT

The legislature passed its first major tax hikes in a quarter century to raise funds for schools and increase teacher pay by an average of $6,100. Educators are asking for a $10,000 raise for teachers over three years.

“We’ve accomplished a whole lot, and I just don’t know how much more we can get done this session,” state Representative John Pfeiffer, a top Republican lawmaker, told reporters this week on the education funding issue.

Pressure is likely to build on legislators and teachers to reach a deal that gets kids back to class.

For the most part, teachers have been given permission by their districts to participate in walkouts and have been paid, with the idea that they would make up for lost time as they do for closures due to inclement weather. But that could soon change as the cushion in school calendars runs out.

Two large districts, Bartlesville and Sand Springs, ordered schools to resume on Thursday. Tulsa Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district, has run out of inclement weather days and plans to lengthen school days when students return.

Legislators also are in a tough spot, said Gregg Garn, dean of the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at the University of Oklahoma.

“They have kids in public schools and they live in the communities,” he said. “They are getting the signal that the investments need to be there.”

Candice Stubblefield, 43, of Midwest City wants a quick resolution.

“They have missed so many days now,” said Stubblefield, whose daughter attends public school. “Both the legislature and teachers seem like they are being stubborn and unyielding.”

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Tulsa, Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Richard Chang)

Striking Oklahoma teachers push for more funds, Republicans say done

Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – A strike by Oklahoma educators demanding more school funding entered a 10th day on Wednesday, as the state’s Republican leaders warned they plan no further increases after approving $450 million in new revenue to boost teacher pay.

Schools in the state’s largest cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, remained closed the day after Republican Governor Mary Fallin signed into law two bills that raised taxes but fell short of teachers demand for another $150 million.

“The governor and lawmakers keep closing the door on revenue options when Oklahomans are asking for a better path forward,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest union for teachers with about 40,000 members.

The strike is part of a wave of actions by teachers in states that have some of the lowest per-student spending in the country. A West Virginia strike ended last month with a pay raise for teachers, and educators in Arizona are also expected to protest on Wednesday, without skipping classes, to seek enhanced school funding.

The Oklahoma strike, which began April 2, has closed public schools serving about 500,000 of the state’s 700,000 students. Schools in Oklahoma City and Tulsa were shut on Wednesday.

Fallin has already approved legislation that would raise teachers’ wages by an annual average of $6,100, but teachers are holding out for a $10,000 raise over three years and other increases in school funding.

Saying that education funding was wrapped up, Fallin signed a bill on Tuesday aimed at expanding revenues from Native American casinos and one that will raise about $20 million from internet sales taxes, her office said in a statement. Fallin also approved a bill that repealed a hotel tax, a measure that teachers wanted vetoed.

“As far as this year, we’ve accomplished a whole lot, and I just don’t know how much more we can get done this session,” state Representative John Pfeiffer, a House floor leader and top Republican lawmaker, told the local Fox affiliate on Tuesday.

A non-partisan poll released on Friday showed 72 percent of voters in Oklahoma, where teacher’s pay is near the bottom among U.S. states, supported the walkout.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)