CNHI News Service
OKLA. CITY —
At the end of a long day, based on hearing some standard answers from lawmakers, some members of the Edmond delegation wondered if they made a difference Monday.
Others who attended the pro-education rally sponsored by the Oklahoma Education Coalition were more optimistic, saying the estimated 25,000 voices could not be ignored.
Monday morning, an estimated 650 teachers, parents, students, Edmond Public Schools staff members and other supporters boarded about 13 district buses at Frontier City.
District administrators have stressed that no taxpayer dollars went toward the rally; parent-teacher organizations picked up the $101.25 tab per bus for the transportation.
Geraldine Cummings, a new Edmond resident, said she was there to support local children and their teachers who are among the least well paid in the nation. Cummings said she is hopeful lawmakers will listen.
“It looks like we’re going to have a great turnout and if we do it will be hard to ignore us one more time,” Cummings said. “Until we start paying our teachers correctly we will not be able to attract the best of the best in the state.”
Neighboring states are paying teachers more than schools in Oklahoma, Cummings said.
“Also one of my chief concerns is the amount of students who will be in my daughter’s class next year,” Cummings said. She said being a teacher in another district she knows firsthand the difficulties associated with larger class sizes.
Jack Kinnaird, an Edmond Memorial High School senior, said he was going to the rally to support public schools and education.
“I’m really concerned,” Kinnaird said of the current education funding situation and the potential for larger class sizes. “It’s totally counter intuitive to what we should be doing. We should be increasing the budget. The debate shouldn’t be about cutting it or anything. That’s not what we need at all.”
Kinnaird said he hopes the rally will inspire some serious change.
Janee Austin, parent of an Orvis Risner Elementary first-grader, said she’s concerned because the current budget situation is already impacting supplies related to classrooms. She said she hopes lawmakers will listen.
“I hope that they’ll see that we really are serious, that we value our children, and that they’ll take a look at their responsibility to all of Oklahoma, but especially to our children.”
Austin, who also has a daughter who will be old enough for pre-K next year, said her son wrote a letter and she’ll be leaving it with a lawmaker, requesting funding for soccer balls and science fairs. She said he loves to play sports and this year they had only one ball for the whole school.
Before the caravan left Frontier City, Edmond Public Schools Superintendent David Goin boarded one of the buses and asked how many on board were going to be part of the team that would be speaking to local representatives in the Capitol after the rally.
Many hands shot skyward. Team members included school board members, teachers and students from all three high schools — Memorial, North and Santa Fe. Edmond did not cancel classes for the rally.
At the Capitol, throngs of education supporters converged on the south steps. Peppy music energized the sea of humanity focused on the stage at the base of the steps.
Handheld placards danced to the music. One stated “I’d rather be TEACHING! Oklahoma STUDENTS deserve your support! They already have mine!” Another stated “PASS HB 2642!” legislation that would provide annual automatic funding increases to common education for the next decade. Another stated “STOP PLAYING POLITICS WITH OUR KIDS.”
There was a strong Edmond presence during the rally. Edmond North student Caitlin Belcik, who played Maria in the school’s recent production of “West Side Story,” sang “The National Anthem.”
During his speech, Peter Markes, director of orchestras at Edmond North and the 2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, said teachers attending the rally believed so strongly in their cause they did the “unthinkable” — left their classrooms.
“Our legislators are failing us,” Markes said.
Edmond administrators say a funding shortage is forcing the district to cut $4 million from its budget for the coming fiscal year, which administrators say could lead to larger class sizes.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are working with a $188 million state budget shortfall. After the rally, Edmond team members went into the Capitol and visited their local legislators. They were receptive and listened. Some voiced their desire to give public schools more funds. But they also have to ensure other stakeholders such as public safety are adequately funded, the lawmakers responded.
Lawmakers said they are still working on a budget deal and don’t yet know how much public schools will receive. A key meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.
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