OKLAHOMA CITY -- For the second consecutive year, thousands of teachers, administrators, parents, and students rallied at the state capitol Monday, calling for increased funding for education and less student testing.
Although officials said the crowd was slightly smaller than last year's rally, which was estimated at 25,000 to 30,000 people, the passion was just the same.
Teacher salaries are $3,200 below the regional average, which is part of the reason for a teacher shortage of nearly 1,000.
"Took us about two hours to get here (from Stuart) because they don't fund our kids," Tracy Blasengame said.
"I've taught 44 years and we've always been at the bottom and I think our kids deserve more than that," Linda Curry of Mid-Del schools said.
"Their future depends on our success as well," Ryan Schweikhart, a Bodine teacher, said.
"We want to get quality teachers in our building to help make all of our kids successful and the only way to do that is to get the pay increase," Michelle Albanys, Assistant Principal of Bodine said.
Educators would also like to see less testing, which they say would result in more instruction time and more focus on learning.
"We put too much pressure on our students and we need to think of them first," Tina Floyd, Bridgecreek Elementary said.
There was also a call to action - literally.
Oklahoma PTA President Jeffery Corbett announced the governor's office phone number, and encouraged everyone to call her at the same time.
"Continue to advocate, continue to lead and continue to make certain our voices are heard. Keep the calls coming."
Rep. Scott Inman (D-District 94), told the crowd the $600 million revenue shortfall is no excuse to avoid an education funding increase.
He said Oklahoma's children are more important than tax cuts and incentives for attracting business to the state.
Rep. Ann Coody (R - District 64), Chair of the House Common Education Committee, disagreed.
"Of course he said that (about ending tax cuts)," Coody said. "But it would not create more money for education."
Coody said she's also disappointed in education funding levels, but said the legislature did give $100 million more to education than last year.
Rally speakers pointed out Oklahoma has 40,000 more public school students than in 2008, but fewer teachers, and funding per pupil is down.
Coody said lawmakers are currently working to replace End Of Instruction testing with a streamlined graduation test.
Governor Fallin released a statement following the rally, saying
“Our educators have one of the most difficult and important jobs out there," Fallin said. "I appreciate their service to the state and their commitment to our children. It's great to see so many of them out here today getting involved in education policy.
"I am proud to have worked to put over $160 million of new money into K-12 education over the last few years, and I agree we can do more," Fallin said. "With a $611 million budget shortfall this year, many agencies are going to take cuts. I am committed, however, to protecting K-12 education from those cuts as much as possible."
The governor’s press release said total dollars spent on K-12 education in the state of Oklahoma (including state, federal and local) have increased from $7.1 billion in FY 2008 to $8.4 billion in FY 2014, according to the State Department of Education Oklahoma Cost Accounting System - approximately 51 percent of legislative appropriations are spent on education.
The governor’s office also said “state appropriated funding for K-12 education has increased by over $160 million in the last three years, by far the largest area of increased spending in state government.”
When adjusted for cost of living, Oklahoma teacher pay ranks 39th in the country, Fallin’s office said.
Student testing and education funding bills are currently in their respective committees.