The mood was festive but determined Monday morning at what was the largest rally on the south steps of the state capital by Oklahoma educators in more than two decades, officials leading the rally said.
Woodward teachers, administrators, board members and parents joined an estimated 25,000 other educators in the state to make sure their legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin heard their message.
“I’m here because I our schools need help,” said retired educator Debby Stine of Woodward. “We just keep on losing funding and have been for the last five years and I have grandchildren who I want to have good schools to go to.”
The teachers were there to make three primary points.
Since 2009, school budgets have been cut by over $200 million, yet the system is serving 40,000 more students, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
In Woodward alone the enrollment is up by more than 1,000 students in the last five years, according to data presented at recent school board meeting.
Additionally the teachers said schools are struggling to meet the high stakes testing reform requirements without adequate funding to provide the additional teaching needed for students that need remedial work.
The teachers also called to attention the loss of 1,500 teachers statewide in recent years, which has increased classroom sizes to nearly 30 students.
According to Gov. Fallin’s office, there has been $120 million added to the budget, but teachers said this is not enough.
They want Fallin to stop giving away more than $300 million in potential state revenue to horizontal and deep well drilling companies.
Teachers held signs that read “49th is not ok for my students” and “Common Sense Not Common Core,” as well as many other mantras that pointed to a growing concern among educators about the condition of education in the state.
With heart pounding music, rally emcee, Floyd Cox of the Oklahoma Education Association whipped the crowd into a frenzy, frequently reminding them the state is 49th in per pupil expenditures.
Sherry Parks of Edmond spoke as well, reminding teachers of their own investment into a system they feel has let them down.
“How about the on average $4,000 to $6,000 Oklahoma teachers spend on supplies per year out of your own pockets,” Parks said. “How much do the legislators spend for supplies per year out of their own pockets?”
Woodward educators have been planning for weeks to attend the rally, hoping to not only leave and impression to politicians including Oklahoma State Superintendent, Janet Barresi.
For special education teacher Jessica Eitzen the trip to participate in the rally and the opportunity to make a difference was worth it.
“This is the most amazing thing I have ever done,” she said. “I’m here to make a difference - 49th is not good enough for our children, they deserve better than that.”
Also a part of the rally was a chance to speak to state legislators.
A group of 40 from Northwest Oklahoma crowded into Sen. Bryce Marlatt’s office to make their message clear about what they feel Woodward Schools need to keep providing quality education to children in the community, said Woodward Deputy Superintendent
“He seemed very understanding and receptive to our comments,” Reynolds said. “I guess we will know more when we see how he votes.”
Editor's Note: On the front page photo in Tuesday's edition a person was misidentified. Linda Harrison was the person holding the sign at the education rally.