Sen. Warren returns to OKC, urges teachers to vote
With dozens of Oklahoma educators on the November ballot, supporters of public education gathered by the hundreds Saturday to advocate for teacher candidates and hear from a national politician with possible presidential ambitions.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat believed to be considering a presidential run in 2020, returned to her alma mater, Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, to address a standing-room-only crowd inside the school cafeteria.
"This government fails our children, fails our teachers and fails our futures," Warren said. "But mark my words: tick-tock, tick-tock. Come November 6 we are going to make some big changes in this country."
Sometimes sounding like a candidate for national office, Warren rebuked tax cuts for the wealthy and advocated for expanded health care.
But her remarks mostly addressed Oklahoma teachers.
"Across this country teachers and librarians and school nurses, and principals and custodians are rising up, speaking out and fighting back.
"Teachers ... are staging walkouts, occupying statehouses, making their voices heard and they are winning. And right here in Oklahoma they are winning big."
The Stand Up for Public Schools rally was organized by the American Federation of Teachers union, which has a local chapter in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district.
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"I'm so glad to be back in Oklahoma," said national AFT President Randi Weingarten, who had been in Oklahoma for a two-week teacher walkout in April.
"Protest is important, but it is step one. What we want, what our kids deserve is a revolution."
Despite winning a Legislature-approved pay raise days before the walkout, Oklahoma teachers ended their protest largely disappointed that lawmakers did not approve a significant funding increase for public education.
Teachers across Oklahoma have said a decade of state education budget cuts on a per-student basis has left classrooms without necessary resources and caused many educators to seek employment in other states.
In a blocked off part of the Northwest Classen cafeteria a couple of buckets collected water from leaking pipes. A few blocks away from the high school, a sign in front of Sequoyah Elementary asked motorists to consider donating paper and pencils.
More than 2,000 emergency certified teachers are in use across the state as school leaders have said it is impossible to fill many openings with a licensed teacher.
Many teachers are hopeful the November election will result in more lawmakers who are willing to increase the state's education budget.
At least 74 licensed teachers filed for state House and Senate seats this year, according to a count by The Oklahoman.
Some already have won primary races this year, and some incumbents lost seats months after they voted against a series of tax increases to fund a teacher pay raise.
“Proving Oklahoma teachers have found their voice and they have not forgotten,” said AFT-Oklahoma President Mary Best.
Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, which is Oklahoma's largest teacher union, also addressed the crowd, saying educators running for office was the “next step” after the April walkout.
“There are 56 that are still in the running for office in the general election, and it is the largest education caucus in the country,” Priest said.
At least 157 teachers are running for office across the country this year, with Oklahoma home to the most candidates, according to the publication Education Week.
“We're 45 days away, it is imperative that we continue to push forward and see it through,” said state Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, a former Oklahoma City teacher who won election to the state House in 2016.
Most of the teachers seeking office are running as Democrats, and Saturday's rally included support for many Democratic candidates.
Carri Hicks, a fourth-grade teacher running in Senate District 40, which is currently represented by a Republican, is running as a Democrat. She said teachers want more because they want more for their students.
“I never really expected to end up here,” Hicks said from the rally stage. “What most people don't understand about teaching is we don't just teach a subject or a classroom, we are the front line of defense for every one of our students in our classrooms.”
Before speaking at the rally, Warren met privately with some of the teachers running for office.
On stage, Warren encouraged teachers to "continue fighting for our kids" by voting in November and supporting candidates who want to continue to invest in public schools.
"Last month, you gave some politicians in this state a lesson they won't soon forget. But here's the thing about your victory, you are proof not just to the good folks of Oklahoma, but people all across this country that it is worthwhile to fight for our values.
"Regardless of political parties, a teacher's success is a child's success, and a child's success is America's success."
To see more photos from Saturday's education rally, go online to Oklahoman.com.