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Tulsa teachers walk 110 miles to Oklahoma Capitol for education funding

Lee Elementary School teacher Taylor Painter-Wolfe marches with a sign during the 7-day walk from Tulsa to Oklahoma City in April 2018.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Many teachers go the extra mile for students; Tulsa teachers just walked 110 miles for theirs.

For the past week, they’ve marched with agonizing blisters and slept on gymnasium floors on their way to confront lawmakers.

Their journey will culminate Tuesday afternoon with a showdown at the state Capitol to demand more school funding and higher raises.

“We’ve reached a breaking point,” said Craig Hoxie, a 48-year-old science teacher at Booker T. Washington High School. “I would really like, for once in my career, if we didn’t have to beg for parents to give Walmart gift cards.”

Flanked by dozens of other teachers and supporters, Hoxie embarked on the final 16-mile stretch of the march Tuesday morning — with massive blisters on his feet.

“My physical suffering is there. But three or four days from now, I’ll be fine,” Hoxie said. “The wounds that have been caused by the state legislature’s neglect will take much longer to heal.”

Like thousands of teachers walking out across Oklahoma, these Tulsa educators aren’t happy with the state’s recent passage of a bill that gave some additional funding for education and raises.

They say much more is needed to replace archaic textbooks, fund elective courses and give teachers enough of a raise that they won’t have to work multiple jobs.

So as they got closer to the Capitol Tuesday, they marched to the song “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

A grueling journey

The voyage started on a chilly morning last Wednesday, with teachers carrying a week’s worth of gear in their backpacks.

Over the next six days, they’ve endured a thunderstorm, snow and even two earthquakes, said Heather Cody, a 3rd-grade teacher who’s coordinating the march.

“Everyone has soldiered on,” she said.

Even the Tulsa schools superintendent, Dr. Deborah Gist, marched alongside the teachers.

Hoxie said hours of pounding the pavement led to many blisters. But the teachers didn’t quit.

Extraordinary kindness

Along the way, the teachers encountered extreme acts of generosity.

There was the law firm that bought 60 pizzas for the group. The sanitation company that set up portable toilets along a bleak part of the route. And the anonymous donor who saved the day when the teachers didn’t have a place to stay.

Shortly after they started their journey, Cody fretted about finding shelter for the teachers in Chandler, Oklahoma — where they were expected to arrive two days later.

Then serendipity struck.

“I get a phone call from someone who wanted to remain anonymous, who said: “I have $500. How would you like to spend that?’ Cody said. “Then he called me back and said, ‘Actually, double that. I have a friend who’s going to match that. So make that $1,000.”

They spent the $1,000 on 14 rooms at the Econo Lodge in Chandler.

“So we did get to sleep one night in a bed,” Hoxie fondly recalled.

During their last night, doctors and massage therapists who heard about their journey and wanted to help showed up at Jones High School, where teachers slept in the library.

But several teachers said some of the greatest outpourings of support came in rural communities, where residents offered anything they had — food, water and words of encouragement.

“The communities we’ve gone though have just been incredible,” Cody said. “This is a true example of why teachers stay in Oklahoma.”

She just hopes the sacrifices made by Tulsa teachers resonate with lawmakers.

“We just walked 110 miles for our students,” she said. “What are you willing to do for our students?”