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Oklahoma educators, students explain why they’re walking out

OKLAHOMA CITY – Thousands of educators headed to the Oklahoma State Capitol to ask legislators to provide additional educational funding.

Over the past several years, budget cuts have negatively impacted numerous state agencies, including the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“I think it is unacceptable that we have four-day school weeks for our children. You’ve heard me say this but I have visited with major companies looking at moving jobs to our state and I’ve heard from several of them that tell me, ‘Governor, your state’s so poor you only fund schools for four days a week. How can I convince my employers, my businesses to want to come to your state when you won’t fund your schools? And I can’t find an educated, quality, skilled workforce if your people are uneducated in your state,” Gov. Fallin said in May.

In July, Oklahoma City district leaders told NewsChannel 4 that school districts across the state are being forced to come up with their own money to pay for things like text books.

Over the past two years, officials say the budget for Oklahoma City Public Schools has been cut by over $30 million.

“We canceled textbook purchases, made cuts to arts, athletics [and] instructional materials from the school budgets. It devastated our schools,” then- Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora told News 4 in August.

Despite having less money in the budget, the Oklahoma State Department of Education says that student enrollment continues to rise.

Officials say 694,816 students were enrolled in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade at the start of the school year, which is about 1,000 more than last year.

Last month, the Oklahoma Education Association announced that it is seeking a $10,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers over three years, a $5,000 pay raise for support professionals over three years, a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees, and the restoration of funding for education and core government services.

OEA announced that it was tentatively planning a teacher walkout for April 2 if legislators didn’t meet those demands.

On Thursday, Gov. Fallin signed HB 1010, which calls for a $447 million tax increase to fund teacher pay raises.

The plan offers an average $6,000 pay increase for all teachers, but it starts at $5,000 for first-year teachers and is expected to gradually increase over time.

However, many educators say they are still going to walk out because lawmakers didn’t restore education funding.

A teacher at Capitol Hill High School said that his students have to share computers with other classrooms, so it makes it difficult to teach when you have to wait for your supplies.

A school library media specialist in Enid says that she is doing the job of two people, and is working with zero funding for her library.

Former Oklahoma Rep. Mike Shelton told News 4 on Monday that there is a disconnect at the Oklahoma Capitol, and says something needs to change quickly.

Even students are out at the Capitol, speaking with lawmakers about increasing funding for their classrooms.

The Department of Public Safety estimates that about 30,000 people will show up at the Oklahoma State Capitol as part of the walkout.