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March 29, 2014

Thousands expected at education rally

OKLAHOMA CITY — More than 25,000 parents, students and educators are expected to converge on the Oklahoma Capitol on Monday to rally for more money for public education.

Organizers hope to persuade legislators to reverse years of cuts to the state’s schools, said Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, one of the rally’s sponsors.

Many districts are giving teachers leave — on a school day — to attend. If the turnout is as high as expected, Monday’s rally would be the largest at the Capitol in nearly two decades.

“I’m just so proud,” Hampton said. “They’re willing to give up a day of their time to speak on behalf of Oklahoma’s children. I think that speaks volumes of how much they value Oklahoma’s (youth.)”

Hampton said Oklahoma schools have tens of thousands more students, but are operating with fewer teachers and millions of dollars less in their budgets.

State appropriations for the schools has dropped from just over $2 billion in fiscal year 2009 to about $1.8 billion this year, according to the state Department of Education. In the meantime, enrollment in Oklahoma schools has increased from about 654,000 to about 681,000 during the same period.

Funding per pupil has fallen from $3,275 to $3,032, according to the state.

“We can’t expect everything from public education and only pay for little pieces here and there of it,” Hampton said.

Jeffery Corbett, president of the Oklahoma PTA and a Stillwater resident, said he’s not surprised that so many people will attend the rally.

“They understand our education system is at a point where we need to see a change,” he said.

But educators won’t be the only group lobbying legislators Monday.

Dave Bond, CEO of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said his bipartisan organization will also be at the Capitol on Monday to ensure “a well-rounded conversation about how we can have the best schools in America.”

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