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Teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky Rally at State Capitols Over Funding, Pensions

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Thousands of Oklahoma teachers walked out of their classrooms on Monday, shutting down 200 school districts across the state in protest of years of education funding cuts. A few states over in Kentucky, teachers rallied at the state capitol to protest changes to their pension benefits. 

The Oklahoma teacher walkout will continue on Tuesday, with some districts announcing plans to stay closed throughout the week or indefinitely. 

The protest comes a week after the Oklahoma legislature passed a historic funding package that included a $6,100 teacher pay raise and $50 million in education funding. The pay raise, which Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law, was an attempt to avert the statewide walkout, which had been in the works for about a month. But teachers said it wasn't enough—they had originally asked for a $10,000 pay raise and $200 million in education funding.

The Oklahoma Education Association is now calling for an additional $75 million in classroom funding. 

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Teachers have said they're no longer fighting for their own salary—they're fighting for their students. 

Rick Cobb, the superintendent of Mid-Del school district near Oklahoma City, said he surveyed support staff, teachers, and administrators after the funding package passed. Out of 969 responses, 93 percent still wanted to walk out on Monday, and 83 percent want to stay out of school beyond Monday.

Teachers there said the package passed by the legislature wasn't enough to make a difference in schools.

"Their response was overwhelming; it made my decision easy," Cobb said in an email. "They'll help me see where to go from here."

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, thousands of teachers rallied at the state capitol on Monday. Most schools in Kentucky are closed for spring break this week, with 21 districts closing specifically for the rally, according to The Courier-Journal. On Friday, dozens of districts were forced to shut down schools because teachers called in sick. 

Teachers there are angry about a pension reform bill that passed the legislature in a matter of hours last week. The bill puts new teachers in a retirement plan that's a mix of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style plan, and removes new hires from an "inviolable contract" that would protect them from future benefit changes. 

As Kentucky teachers rallied, lawmakers considered a new state budget that includes higher spending for public education, reports the Associated Press. The additional education spending would be paid for by a 6 percent sales tax on a host of services that had previously been tax-free. The spending and taxing proposals cleared the state senate and now go to the house.

For more on teacher salaries and pensions, check out our new explainer.  

Image 1: Melissa Knight, who teaches art at Ardmore, Okla., middle school, holds a sign as teachers rally against low school funding at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City on April 2. —Sue Ogrocki/AP 

Image 2: A crowd listens to speakers on a stage during a teacher rally to protest low student funding at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, April 2. —Sue Ogrocki/AP

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