Oklahoma, Kentucky teachers walk off job over pay, shut schools

OKLAHOMA CITY, April 2 (Reuters) - Oklahoma teachers walked off the job on Monday, closing schools statewide, as they became the latest U.S. educators to demand pay raises and more funding for a school system reeling from a decade of budget cuts.

SEE ALSO: Teachers stage quasi-protest over cuts to public pension in Kentucky

The strike by some of the lowest-paid educators in the nation came the same day that Kentucky teachers dressed in red T-shirts flooded that state's capital demanding pension security, following a similar successful wage-strike about a month ago by teachers in West Virginia.

Teachers say years of budget austerity in many states have led to the stagnation of already poor salaries.

In Oklahoma City, a band of teachers played "We're Not Gonna Take It," as buses of educators from across the state arrived at the Capitol. Protesters carried signs reading: "How can you put students first if you put teachers last?" ahead of a rally expected to draw thousands.

"I am disgusted with the cuts, and deeper and deeper cuts," said Betty Gerber, a retired teacher from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

See images from the scene:

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Statewide teacher strike in West Virginia, Kentucky
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Statewide teacher strike in West Virginia, Kentucky
Thousands of Kentucky school teachers marched Monday, April 2, 2018 from the Kentucky Education Association's headquarters to the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. to protest legislative changes to their pensions and education cuts. Public schools in all 120 Kentucky counties were closed Monday, either to join in the protest or because of spring break. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
Thousands of Kentucky school teachers marched Monday, April 2, 2018 from the Kentucky Education Association's headquarters to the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. to protest legislative changes to their pensions and education cuts. Public schools in all 120 Kentucky counties were closed Monday, either to join in the protest or because of spring break. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
Thousands of Kentucky teachers rallied at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky. on Monday, April 2, 2018. (Alex Slitz/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS via Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: An Oklahoma teacher walks the picket line at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: Ella Roach holds a protest sign in support of her teacher, Kimberly Cox, during a rally at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: Conner McElveen, an Oklahoma City teacher, holds a protest sign about the lacking of taxation on the oil industry, at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators gather during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs and chant during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Striking teachers stand on a small picket line outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Demonstrators hold a sign reading '#55United' during a rally outside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but they didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Striking school workers hold signs and chant inside the West Virginia Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. A week ago, thousands of public school teachers in West Virginia went out on strike, a rare but familiar union-organized action to protest low wages and rising health-care costs. Tuesday night, state union leaders and the Governor Jim Justice reached a deal, and the teachers were expected to be back at work on Thursday, but hey didn't go. Unsatisfied with the resolution, they stayed on the picket line, mounting one of the country's biggest unauthorized 'wildcat' strikes in decades. Photographer: Scott Heins/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Support and SOLIDARITY for the underpaid teachers of West Virginia who are fighting for higher wages at a time when… https://t.co/g0kzb2psXI
West Virginia's public schools are closed for a third day today after nearly 20,000 public school teachers walked o… https://t.co/vrIPUX2jIW
All 680 public schools in West Virginia are closed. Here's why: https://t.co/k8PImg4xDr https://t.co/9oxzlV92Bk
BREAKING: West Virginia teachers still aren’t going back to work. Union leaders just announced that the strike will… https://t.co/3npM2CL0X5
Teachers in West Virginia are still feeding their students during an expected two-day strike https://t.co/H58LZ1eh7N https://t.co/FuRRmTOuAR
I’m always shocked how little teachers are paid. Don’t our representatives know that teachers have one of the harde… https://t.co/h9cqyXk9En
West Virginia teachers are making sure their students get fed while they're on strike https://t.co/wtywBsmquu
Organizers say teachers in West Virginia are so poorly paid that some must take second jobs to make ends meet https://t.co/Wryo0CEsSl
A teacher's strike is keeping public schools closed for a third day in West Virginia. https://t.co/uVDGQQnepY
As of Sunday, all 55 counties in West Virginia had preemptively called off school for today. https://t.co/zBQGviPTd1
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 2: A teacher holds a protest sign at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Thousands of teachers and supporters are scheduled to rally Monday at the state Capitol calling for higher wages and better school funding. Teachers are walking off the job after a $6,100 pay raise was rushed through the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma's Republican-controlled legislature last week approved the state's first major tax increase in a quarter century to help fund pay raises for teachers, hoping to avert a strike with a $450 million revenue package.

The funding would raise by $5,000 the pay of teachers beginning their career, and provide a raise of nearly $8,000 for those with 25 years' experience, lawmakers said.

The increase fell short of the demand from the largest teachers' union in the state, the Oklahoma Education Association, for a $10,000 pay increase over three years for teachers and a $5,000 raise for support personnel.

According to National Education Association estimates for 2016, Oklahoma ranked 48th, followed by Mississippi at 49 and South Dakota at 50, in terms of average U.S. classroom teacher salary.

Oklahoma secondary school teachers had an annual mean wage of $42,460 as of May 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The minimum salary for a first year teacher was $31,600, state data showed.

The mean wage for teachers in every neighboring state is higher, causing many experienced teachers to leave Oklahoma, where some budget-strained districts have been forced to implement four-day school weeks.

On a state level, the inflation-adjusted general funding per student in Oklahoma dropped by 28.2 percent between 2008 and 2018, the biggest cut of any state, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton in Oklahoma City and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)

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