As an English teacher at Heavener High School in eastern Oklahoma, Sarah Jane Scarberry said she has tried for years to replace her classroom’s tattered textbooks.
“I have requested new textbooks for a few years with no real hopes of getting any,” she told CNN.
Scarberry is one of several teachers and parents in Oklahoma who have shared photos and stories via social media of crumbling, outdated textbooks as part of their plea for more education funding. Some are posted on the “Oklahoma Teacher Walkout — The Time Is Now!” Facebook page.
The state of the textbooks go a long way toward explaining why thousands of teachers in Oklahoma left their classrooms and rallied at the state capital on Monday and Tuesday, asking for teacher and support staff raises, as well as better funding for their schools and students.
Scarberry also shared images of her classroom’s broken desks and chairs, and said they weren’t too bad compared to other classrooms.
“As for the desks, I’m more fortunate than most I guess. My husband works with me at Heavener and works in maintenance. He usually can use salvageable parts from discarded desks to keep me going,” she told CNN.
On Twitter, user jamiebh73 shared a photo of a textbook from her daughter’s eighth-grade history class in Owasso. In the book, George W. Bush is still president, she said.
Textbook funding ‘desperately needed’
Education funding has dropped by 28% over the past decade, the state teachers’ union said. Oklahoma is among the bottom three states in terms of teachers’ salaries.
Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that gives an average of $6,100 raises for teachers, $1,250 raises for support staff, and adds $50 million in education funding.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said the measure will provide “desperately needed” funding for textbooks.
“These measures finally ensure Oklahoma’s dedicated, hard-working public schoolteachers receive well-deserved, competitive pay. In addition, the bills provide desperately needed resources for textbooks and support staff who perform vital services for our students,” she said in a statement.
But Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said that still is not enough. Some classrooms don’t have enough textbooks, and some of those books are more than 20 years old, she said.
The $50 million increase in funding from the state “will buy less than one textbook per student in Oklahoma,” she said.
“Our schools just can’t maintain all of the supplies, instructional materials, textbooks, even copy paper,” she said. “Copies are limited in schools to maybe 30 a week.”
In a statement, Fallin praised last week’s pay raise and said legislators are only able to do what the budget allows.
“We must be responsible not to neglect other areas of need in the state such as corrections and health and human services as we continue to consider additional education funding measures,” she said.
‘It’s always the cuts’
Allyson Kubat, who teaches at Mustang High Scool, just southwest of Oklahoma City, said the textbooks student in her public speaking class use are so old that they advise them to ask librarians about “this new thing called the Internet” and explain how to use microfiche.
“I need new textbooks. I’m not the only one,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday.
Scarberry said that the walkout was needed to get the state’s attention about the difficult conditions in their schools.
“We are told at the beginning of every year how much our budget will be cut. It’s never, ‘Well teachers, now is the time to stock up because we have a budget increase.’ It’s always the cuts,” she said.
Her school has even discussed moving to a four-day week to cut back on expenses such as electricity and water usage.
“I feel the walkout was a necessary event to get our state’s attention. It may work, it may not, but at least people are finally aware of the daily struggle,” she said. “Our class sizes increase every year and we don’t have the funds to hire new teachers or aides. Teachers are using their own paychecks to keep stretching resources.
“I could go on for days about the things we need, and the opportunities my students deserve. For myself, a raise sounds great, but this walkout for me was never about that. It was always funding for our schools,” she said.