by Félix Pérez
They traveled by bus, minivan and car from every corner of the state, many setting out before daybreak. They came from Broken Arrow, Tulsa, Guymon, Edmond, Miami and all points in between. At its peak, yesterday’s historic education funding rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol drew an estimated 25,000 educators, parents, students and administrators.
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Rallygoers converged on Oklahoma City on a sunny morning to demand that state legislators take action to lift the state from 49th place in the nation in per pupil funding. Despite an increase of some 40,000 students since 2008, the legislature has slashed approximately $220 million from education, resulting in bigger class sizes, fewer student programs and greater difficulty in retaining and recruiting highly qualified teachers. Oklahoma teacher pay ranks 49th in the nation.
“Public education is the great equalizer and the key to a successful future,” wrote elementary school teacher and Oklahoma Education Association President Linda Hampton in her blog. “That is not something that should be done ‘on the cheap.’ It is not something that should be done in 2014 on a 2008 budget.”
Valiant teacher and parent Tiffany Olney drove four hours “to make a stand.” She told News9.com, “My children personally have no voice if I don’t come and speak up for them.”
Enid teacher April Swinnea-Ogg was inspired by what she saw on the capitol grounds. “I am blown away at the unifying support felt at the rally today. It is inspiring to see the dedication and commitment from that many educators. That I am now a member of this incredible team is such a blessing to me. We can do anything because we are not alone.”
As individuals we have power, but when over 20,000 individuals come together with one voice and one purpose the message becomes a roar. A message that will rumble to the top floors of the Capitol and across this great state saying, ‘The time is now – secure funding for public education.’
March 31 is not simply one day of action. It is the beginning of a new sense of change and purpose . . . Teachers, parents, administrators, community members and students are saying it is time to prioritize and fund public education. It is no longer acceptable for our students to be 49th in the nation in the amount that is spent for their education.
The state legislature has until May 30 to pass a budget. Until then, Hampton, Olney, Swinnea-Ogg and 25,000 other supporters of Oklahoma public education plan to keep up the heat in their fight for the state’s 678,000 students.