Oklahoma teachers take school funding quest on the road for 110-mile march


Hundreds of striking educators are embarking on a six-day hike from Tulsa to the state capital to demand action on classroom supplies

Teachers do not typically get to share top billing with the superstars of professional sport.

But for a brief moment on Tuesday night at the Chesapeake Energy Stadium, Shantel O’Grady of Tecumseh middle school earned her place on the Jumbotron as Oklahoma City Thunder took on basketball’s reigning NBA champs, Golden State Warriors.

The Oklahoma City Thunder game against Golden State Warriors saw a show of support for teachers. Photograph: Mark D Smith/USA Today Sports

During a break in the first quarter, as O’Grady appeared to get the Teacher of the Game award, clad in the red colors of striking teachers, the crowd cheered wildly as the announcer said O’Grady would be receiving free gift cards to purchase badly needed classroom supplies.

For now, public support for striking teachers in Oklahoma appears high, but it is not clear how long that will last.

“It worries me,” says Scott Harrison, a geometry teacher at Southeast high school, sitting behind me. “Some people view that as being greedy or unthankful [for the raise], but it’s more than a teacher raise we are looking for, it’s funding for our classrooms.”

While the state legislature passed a $6,000 raise, the state approved only $50m of the $250m that teachers requested for additional classroom supplies. Harrison says he still has to teach personal finance classes using a textbook from 1995 that refers to ATMs as a “new technology”.

Oklahoma map

On Monday, the lame-duck Republican Oklahoma governor, Mary Fallin, attempted to turn public sympathy against the striking teachers. In an interview with CBS Evening News, she accused teachers of being greedy and said the protests were backed by anti-fascist “antifa” groups.

“Teachers want more,” Fallin told CBS News. “But it’s kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car.”

Oklahoma teachers are going all out to rally support and put pressure on the legislature to pass another bill to increase spending on classroom resources.

Thousands of teachers and supporters rally at the Oklahoma state capitol. Photograph: J Pat Carter/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday, more than 400 spandex-clad teachers, gathered in front of Daniel Webster high school in Tulsa to launch a six-day 110-mile hike from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.

“If you can walk 100 miles then what can our legislators do here in Oklahoma,” said the National Education Association secretary-treasurer, Princess R Moss, as she began the march in front of Daniel Webster high school.

“Hold them accountable and walk until you get what you need for our students and public education here in Oklahoma,” said Moss as the crowd gathered to head out on historic Route 66.

The journey will be long and arduous across the plains of Oklahoma. Teachers estimate they will walk six hours a day.

Churches and schools have offered to host the marching teachers. Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries and Muslims for Mercy have arranged food for the marchers along the way.

“We are a very diverse group,” says hijab-clad Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries’ executive director, Aliye Shimi.

Patricia Mott: ‘I just need to take care of my kids, I need to take care of my teachers.’ Photograph: Mike Elk

The largely women-led group had been preparing for the march for weeks, including running seminars on how to physically prepare the women for 17 miles a day. The group also plans support vehicles so those that are unable to walk could join them.

Special education teacher Patricia Mott, 66, said she hoped to do the entire march each day, but the battery on her electric wheelchair will only allow her to go 10 miles a day.

“Sorry I get so emotional,” Mott said as she wiped away tears. “I just need to take care of my kids, I need to take care of my teachers.

“I’m 66 years old and everyone says, ‘Why haven’t you retired?’ It’s because I am needed, still needed,” Mott said as she turned on her electric wheelchair and headed off on Route 66 for Oklahoma City.

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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