Educators gather in OKC for rally (Broken Arrow Ledger )

By Josh Burton

OKLAHOMA CITY — More than 25,000 teachers, administrators and parents rallied at the Oklahoma State Capitol, Monday, including more than 200 from Broken Arrow.

“I think it went swimmingly,” said Broken Arrow Education President Greer Nichols. “There were tons of people there.

Nichols was hopeful that the educators voices were heard loud and clear even though there wasn’t time to chat with legislators like the BAEA had planned.

“It had to have made an impact to see 20-to-25,000 people at the rally,” Nichols said. “Education bills were coming out of committee while we were there. I do think this thing could turn around.”

Speakers at the rally voiced their concerns for education funding.

“We work for you and we believe the building behind me is your building,” said Rep. Scott Inman, (D-Dist. 94) who spoke at the rally. “Our responsibility is to open our doors, look them square in the eyes and say welcome to our State Capitol.”

According to Inman, funding has been cut during the past five years and 1,500 teachers lost due to the cuts. He said the Oklahoma State Legislature has supported an income tax cut and those cuts have equalled about $200 million.

While he said funding alone won’t solve all the problems in education, not having enough of it can cause many problems.

“Have you had enough?” Inman asked to the applause of the thousands in attendance. “Have you had enough?” he asked again to the same reaction.

Speakers throughout the morning talked about how education had taken a back seat.

Peter Markes, a teacher from Edmond Public Schools, said monies have been misused, using the analogy of how a farmer would have to cope with not having enough feed or supplies.

He encouraged the state to invest in education.

“Nobody understands a challenge more than a teacher,” Markes said.

Asher Nees, a student from Norman, said he was concerned with the decrease in the number of people moving to the state. He made the connection that it may have something to do with education funding.

“We can’t allow that to happen. We must treat every student the same, giving every student the best education possible,” he said. “Either the state needs to reap the benefits or suffer the consequences.”

David Blatt, with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, encouraged rally attendees to not take lightly the answers legislators may give, saying the legislators may say they support funding, but it isn’t there.

“Don’t believe them,” Blatt said.

He too mentioned the income tax cuts.

“Funding needs to be restored to pre-2008 levels. Don’t cut taxes until funding levels are restored,” Blatt said.

John Tuttle, with the Oklahoma State School Board Association, said teachers need to stand up for what they believe and tell legislators this.

“Stand up for public education,” he said.

“It’s time for Oklahoma’s legislature to stand up for public schools.”

Tuttle repeated this three other times, each time receiving a louder roar from the crowd.

“Look at the children who are here today,” he said. “Aren’t they worth it?”

Jeffery Corbett, with the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association, questioned how money is spent and what it is spent on.

“Who pays for it when schools don’t have copy paper?” The crowd roared in unison “teachers.”

“I’m tired of being an ATM,” Corbett said.

He also suggested legislators get back to local control.

“We must turn our classrooms back over to our teachers,” he said.

Dr. Keith Ballard, Tulsa Public Schools superintendent, said the schools aren’t being respected.

“It’s highly disrespectful for Oklahoma to be ranked 49th,” he said. “It’s there.”

He too suggested not giving a tax break to companies conducting horizontal drilling and not cutting the income tax.

“It’s about priority,” Ballard said. “Oklahoma schools have not been a priority.”

During Inman’s speech, he said the solution is simple.

“First, HB2642 needs to pass. That bill, in short, will guarantee annual funding increases to schools, by increasing the per pupil funding by $57.5 million per year for a decade,” Inman said.

Second, he said revenues need to be increased for schools,

“This year alone, Gov. Mary Fallin has said the state will increase funding for education by $50 million,” he said. “The problem is, education needs at least $60 million.

We need to protect our revenues,” he said.

And, third, Inman said the legislature must vote against any budget that doesn’t increase education funding.

One of the authors of that bill was Rep. Lee Denney.

She admitted she is an Oklahoma conservative, but vouched for restoring funding to the pre-2008 levels.

She said the state has committed to roads and bridges funding to rebuild all structurally deficient bridges in the state.

That same idea must be applied to education.

“Today, we are provided $250 less per student than in 2009,” Denney said.

That bill is currently in the Senate at the State Appropriations Committee.


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