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Oklahoma teachers continue walkout over low wages

Thousands of teachers in the US state of Oklahoma plan to continue their four-day walkout and protests to pressure lawmakers to increase funding for their classrooms, as well as raise teacher wages.

The teachers rallied outside the state’s legislature building on Thursday to lobby lawmakers in the cash-strapped state for quick approval of a revenue package they say could end a walkout that has closed public schools for nearly a week.

The statewide walkout began Monday as Oklahoma grapples with a teacher shortage that has forced some school districts to cut school programs, go to a four-day school week and deploy nearly 2,000 emergency-certified instructors as a stopgap measure.

“Teachers are just fed up. We’re done,” Teresa Danks, a third-grade teacher at Grimes Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said.

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“We are in the classroom every day fighting for these kids and we’re living the nightmare of not having what we need, of having textbooks from when Bill Clinton was president, not enough paper, broken chairs and desks,” Danks said.

Oklahoma ranked 49 out of 50 states in terms of teacher salaries, according to a 2016 report by the National Education Association.

Oklahoma lawmakers made plans to vote Friday on bills that could earmark more money for education.

Last week, lawmakers approved tax hikes that would have raised teacher pay by an average of about $6,000. But that was not enough for the teachers, seeking $10,000 over three years.

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School teachers have been rallying over low pay and dwindling education budgets in several states in recent months, including West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.

And problems could be brewing in the low-teacher pay states of North Carolina and Mississippi, according to Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Education union leaders have warned that cuts in school spending across the country are scaring away future teachers.

“We are at a crisis now where if you go to the colleges of education, every single one of them will tell you they are seeing a drop in the number of applicants,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association union.

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