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April 1, 2014

Estimated 25,000 lobby legislators for more education funding

OKLAHOMA CITY — About 25,000 people waved signs, chanted and cheered Monday along the steps of the Capitol in hopes of convincing the Legislature to spend more money on education.

“We can, we can, we can do better” and “Fund us now” the mass of people chanted.

The rally — organized by the Oklahoma Education Association, the Oklahoma PTA and other groups — was a “fantastic success,” said state PTA President Jeffrey Corbett, of Stillwater.

“The crowd was tremendous. They were fired up,” Corbett said.

He relayed reports of highway backups because so many people were trying to attend.

The rally was the largest at the Capitol in more than two decades. Despite the crowds, no major incidents were reported, Oklahoma Highway Patrol Major Rusty Rhoades said.

Participants said they hoped to persuade legislators to reverse what they call years of cuts to public schools.

State appropriations for schools has dropped from more than $2 billion in Fiscal Year 2009 to about $1.8 billion this year, according to the state Department of Education. Enrollment has increased from about 654,000 to about 681,000 during the same period.

“We feel like teachers have taken the hit over and over again, and our kids are suffering because of it,” said Terri Roberts, a third-grade teacher from Muskogee.

Tammy Setzer, kindergarten teacher at Kelley Elementary in Moore, and coworker Bambi Rogers, also a kindergarten teacher at the same school, were at Monday’s rally wearing T-shirts that read “Moore Love.”

“We need to fund more room and more teachers,” Setzer said. “Our schools are overcrowded.”

School was still in session for Moore students, but the two were among 100 Moore employees who had substitute teachers paid for by their union.

“We were really happy we got to come,” Setzer said.

Across the Capitol lawn, Jasmine Exum, 16, a sophomore at Edmond North High School, sat with three friends.

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