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Thousands Rally For Education

  More than 25,000 Oklahomans made their way to the Capitol on Monday to show support for Education.

The crowd included educators, parents, students and supporters from all corners of the state.

The chanting of more than 25,000 people fills the area south of the Capitol as the crowd stretches from the large steps past the dormant oil rig known as Petunia One and into the visitor parking lot.

Most of the attendees are wearing red to support education.

Dawna Watkins comes from Justus-Tiawah in Claremore.

Her red shirt declares educators inspire, motivate, create, evolve, but above all, TEACH!

Dawna says her main reason for traveling nearly two hours from her home is to get more funding for schools.

“We are losing our teachers. We are overcrowded in our classes. And we have to put education as a priority. It has taken a back seat long enough.”

Some opponents of the rally raised concerns that the teachers were getting paid to rally at the Capitol, but Dawna says they funded this trip themselves.

“We paid for our way to get up here. We paid for the T-shirts that we’re wearing today. We’re willing to pay in order to make sure that our students are taken care of. It doesn’t matter if it costs us money for a substitute. We’re in education.”

Funding to get educators to the rally also came from the private sector.

Southern Star of Poteau helped pay for transportation to the Capitol an almost three hour trip.

“So we took it upon ourselves to lease each of the buses that transported the teachers from Poteau up here. So we that we can honestly say that no school funds went for this rallying event.”

Call Center Manager B.J. Barnes says companies are worried about the pool of qualified workers in the future without an education.

But, he also says raising teacher salaries has an immediate impact on the economy.

“Their salaries are going to be spent locally in the community. If you want to go ahead and jump start the economy in Oklahoma, start investing it back in Oklahoma into the people that are feet on the ground, our teachers, stop giving it away to all these corporations that may not even exist in this state)

One of those educators brought from Poteau by Southern Star is librarian Nancy Ellis.

This isn’t her first major event.

Nancy participated in the 1017 rally in 1990 to push for more funding and smaller class sizes.

She says the rally now is just as important as it was 24 years ago.

“We got it passed and it helped. But we have to have these changes this year right now for our kids. These people that are up here voting they have no idea what it’s like being in a classroom.”

Organizers of the event say Oklahoma is 48th in per pupil spending.

The National Education Association ranks the state 49th in average teacher salary falling more than $11,000 below the national average in pay.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates Oklahoma is facing the largest decline in K-12 funding of any state with a nearly 23% cut.

Participants also worry about all the exams kids have to take.

Lee Redding a Nationally Board certified Teacher out of Owasso traveled 118 miles to let lawmakers know high stakes tests are stressing out students, teachers and parents.

“I just don’t see how they can keep demanding and demanding when our basic needs aren’t being met. And those kids that need are most attention are the ones getting hurt the most by this high stakes testing. We need smaller class sizes with more one on one time for teachers.”

After the rally hundreds of the attendees made their way into the building to talk to legislators.

While most elected officials welcomed the educators, some had signs refusing to meet with anyone outside their districts.

Organizers warn lawmakers if the needs of schools aren’t met they will hear about it on Election Day.

Michael Cross is the host of KOSU's Morning Edition.
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