On the sixth day of a teachers' strike that has closed 66 school districts across Oklahoma, education supporters denounced comments from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who spoke for the first time of the protest late last week—only to criticize the teachers who are demanding more support for schools.
"I think we need to stay focused on what's right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served," said DeVos, according to the Dallas Morning News, provoking angry responses on social media.
Joke of an Education Secretary @BetsyDeVos ignores the fact that the @GOP legislature in Oklahoma has starved public education for decades and only recently provided a raise to teachers after they spoke up. https://t.co/r08Y4Vo139 #1u #OKwalk4kids— Democratic Coalition (@TheDemCoalition) April 9, 2018
Let's cut Betsy DeVos's salary to match that of the striking teachers and subsequently seize any assets that make her wealthier than the average Oklahoma teacher, then let's see if DeVos shows up to work.— Denizcan James (@MrFilmkritik) April 9, 2018
Their textbooks are twenty years old, their desks are falling apart, and their class sizes prohibit them from doing their jobs. This is a hundred percent about their work and students. Please educate yourself, Betsy. https://t.co/3gaKuR79go— Laura (@hildymac) April 9, 2018
Teachers went on strike last week after lawmakers passed a funding package that offered only about $50 million for schools, where students have grappled with outdated, crumbling textbooks and shortened weeks, and many teachers have been forced to pay for school supplies out-of-pocket for years—even as they're paid some of the lowest education wages in the country.
The teachers want $10,000 raises rather than the $6,100 raises they were offered by legislators, and a $200 million funding package for schools—following cuts since 2008 that have amounted to a 27 percent slash in Oklahoma's education spending.
On Monday, education supporters returned to the State Capitol building in Oklahoma City to demand that Gov. Mary Fallin sign two tax bills—both of which were passed by the State Senate last Friday at the urging of teachers and would offer an expected $40 million boost to schools. Teachers are also demanding the governor veto the repeal of a hotel and motel tax bill, a measure which would provide another $50 million to education.
"We need lawmakers to make a long-term investment in our children's future," the Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, said on Monday.
The ABC affiliate News Channel 9 reported that the Capitol building was packed to capacity with supporters Monday morning.
Teachers and supporters were also marching from a number of cities to the Capitol, with some walking more than 100 miles and arriving Monday. Some estimates put the number of marchers in the thousands.
Well, we just heard from the highway patrol that this March has 3,000! https://t.co/1Lj1BgN4dS— OK Education Assoc. (@okea) April 9, 2018
Witnessed THOUSANDS of teachers, students, parents and other supporters walking from Edmond to the Oklahoma State Capitol this morning. So inspiring. We are with you! Keep going! #oklaed #OklahomaTeachersWalkout pic.twitter.com/plIKXdwTzx— Jill DeLozier (@jilldelozier) April 9, 2018
"We aren't going to shut up, we aren't done, this movement has gelled us together," Madeline Jacobsen, a third-grade teacher from Tulsa, told the Guardian. "We are ready to fight for our kids for the long haul. We have power together."
The strike has amassed supporters from other fields as well. On Monday, more than 100 women marched from the Oklahoma Bar Association to the Capitol, with a group of attorneys leading the way.
Massive group of female attorneys are leaving from the Oklahoma Bar Center en masse, heading to advocate for public education funding at the state Capitol. #oklaed #oklaedwalkout pic.twitter.com/ri1CDCFZ33— Andrea Eger (@AndreaEger) April 9, 2018
"The current situation is not sustainable," Sarah Curtiss, head of Girl Attorney, a group that joined the march, told CNN. "It's not good for the kids, it's not good for the teachers, and it's not good for the state. We are really wanting to support other professionals in our state who have been brave enough to walk out and stay out."