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Kentucky, Oklahoma Teachers Rally Against War on Public Education (PHOTOS)

© AP Photo / Timothy D. Easley / Teacher Protests Kentucky
Teacher Protests Kentucky - Sputnik International
Schools in Kentucky and Oklahoma closed Monday as teachers in both states went on strike to protest pension reforms and to demand pay raises.

In Kentucky, schools in multiple counties have closed for the rally currently taking place in the state capital of Frankfort. According to WSAZ, Kentucky Education Association President Stephanie Winkler is urging school superintendents across the state to cancel classes so as many teachers as possible can participate in the rally.

The rally was organized in response to a bill passed last Thursday by state lawmakers altering the pension benefits structure for new teachers. The already existing pension benefits will apply to current teachers.

According to Senate Bill 151, no changes will be made to teachers' annual cost of living adjustments, which are general benefit increases based on increases in the cost of living. However, new teachers will have to enter a new hybrid cash balance retirement plan as part of their benefit pension plan, in which they must contribute a specific amount of money to their account. The retirement plan merges features of a traditional pension with features of 401(k) accounts used in the private sector. Kentucky teachers are already ineligible for Social Security benefits. In addition, teachers will have a limited number of sick days that can go toward their retirement.

As a result, Kentucky educators from 20 counties called out of work sick or requested substitutes in order to chant "Stop the war on public education" in front of the capitol building in Frankfort.

Although Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has not yet signed the bill, he expressed his support for the changes last week on Twitter.

"Tonight 49 members of the Kentucky House and 22 members of the Kentucky Senate voted not to keep kicking the pension problem down the road. Anyone who will receive a retirement check in the years ahead owes a deep debt of gratitude to these 71 men & women who did the right thing," Bevin tweeted on March 30.

In addition, thousands of Oklahoma teachers flocked to the state capital of Oklahoma City on Monday demanding pay raises. Oklahoma educators are some of the lowest-paid in the country.

Before state legislators passed a pay raise last Thursday, Oklahoma teachers had not received a state raise in decade. Nonetheless, teachers are still striking in support of higher salaries and more state revenue.

The raise issued last week would increase the salary of inexperienced teachers by $5,000. Those educators with 25 years or more of experience would receive a raise of nearly $8,000, Raw Story reported. However, teachers have demanded a $10,000 pay increase over three years and a $5,000 raise for support personnel like bus drivers and custodians. The teachers are also demanding additional state funding for school supplies like books and computers.

"We've all heard stories from students, parents and teachers affected by eleven years of cuts to our classrooms," said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, in a Sunday Facebook video.

"They see broken chairs in class, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together and class sizes that have ballooned," she added, referring to cuts to education funding across the years.

"Teachers are so drastically underpaid they are forced to donate plasma, work multiple jobs and go to food pantries to provide for their families. Oklahoma is better than this."

The protests in Oklahoma and Kentucky come about a month after West Virginia teachers won an important victory, with the state's House of Delegates and Senate unanimously approving a bill awarding all state employees, including teachers and school staff, a 5 percent pay increase after educators staged a nine-day classroom walkout that shutdown every school district in the state, claiming that they were among the lowest-paid educators in the country.

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