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Oklahoma, Kentucky public schools close as thousands of teachers walk out

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“It is a heartfelt thing. It’s not just something to do, a way to get attention,” he said. “This is the heart of education … This is what it’s all about. It’s about people pulling together for the betterment of our kids, which is going to help Oklahoma in the long run.”

Heather Caram, another teacher at the protest, told MSNBC that she would soon be leaving Oklahoma to accept a job in Georgia. Her sign read, “Oklahoma’s #1 export is teachers.”

“We have too many uncertified teachers teaching in Oklahoma and I have two daughters,” Caram said. “We’re looking at the front end of a serious teaching crisis and I want better for them. That means leaving the state, unfortunately.”

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, who attended the Oklahoma rally, said educators who are tired of 20-year-old textbooks held together by duct tape had gathered to say “enough is enough.”

“This wasn’t caused by a natural disaster. This is a man-made crisis,” she said.

Oklahoma teachers, among the lowest paid in the nation, according to the National Education Association, have followed the tactic of teachers in West Virginia.

West Virginia’s nine-day strike resulted in a 5 percent raise for teachers. Kentucky teachers continued to protest on Monday, leading to the shuttering of all public schools in the state.

The Kentucky Education Association began Monday’s rally at union headquarters in Frankfort. It was followed by a march to the Capitol.

A small group of teachers and school employees had already gathered early Monday outside the Capitol Annex, where lawmakers have their offices. A large sign displayed outside the Annex said, “We’ve Had Enough.” Outside the Capitol, a sign said, “You Make Us Sick.”

 Thousands of teachers gather during a rally for education funding and changes to their pension system at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, on Monday. Alex Slitz / Lexington Herald-Leader, via AP

Teachers have rallied several times during this year’s legislative session to protest a pension bill. But Monday’s event was shaping up as their biggest event as lawmakers try to reach agreement on a new budget.

Teachers in Arizona are also considering a strike over their demands for a 20 percent salary increase.

The wave of red-state teacher walkouts stems partially from the fact that they don’t have strong collective bargaining laws, according to Agustina Paglayan, an incoming assistant professor of political science and public policy at the University of California, San Diego, and a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Global Development.

In an analysis for The Washington Post published Monday, Paglayan explained that teachers in states with stronger collective bargaining laws — typically more liberal and wealthy states — have more to lose by striking. She notes that these laws aren’t necessarily the cause of an increase in funding, but bluer states that have them typically spend more on education anyway.

Collective bargaining laws first really gained popularity in the U.S. in the 1960s, when public sector strikes were a problem, Paglayan said. However, these bargaining rights came at a price.

In 19 of 33 states that have introduced collective bargaining rights, they also heavily penalize teachers and unions that went on strike — with loss of pay, fines and suspension of existing bargaining agreements, among other penalties.

The remaining states either didn’t require bargaining laws or prohibited it. In 2011, Republicans in 11 states, including Oklahoma, cut back teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

“Since the 1960s, mandatory collective bargaining laws have not only helped maintain peace in public-sector labor relations — they also haven’t caused governments to spend more on teachers and schools,” Paglayan wrote. “Ironically, conservative lawmakers who cut back these laws could inadvertently cause even more public-sector strikes.”

Last week, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation that would raise teachers’ pay for the first time in a decade. The legislation increases taxes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production to provide teachers with raises of about $6,100, or 15 to 18 percent.

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The new revenue measures are expected to generate about $450 million, with the bulk going to teacher raises and about $50 million going to general education funding.

But many educators say it’s not enough.

The teachers are asking for a $10,000 raise over three years, and additional classroom funding of $75 million. The teachers hope that the funding will be put toward replacing outdated textbooks, broken chairs and desks; reinstating foreign language and arts classes; and ending four-day school weeks.

Oklahoma ranks 47th in the nation in public school revenue per student, nearly $3,000 below the national average, while its average teacher salary of $45,276 ranks 49th, according to the most recent statistics from the National Education Association.

“A lot of teachers are just tired of the promises,” said Alberto Morejon, a junior high history teacher from Stillwater, Oklahoma, who launched a teacher walkout page on Facebook that quickly reached more than 70,000 followers.

Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association teachers union, said Monday’s rally could lead to a longer walkout as teachers from across the state press their demands that lawmakers approve more funding for state classrooms.

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“It’s day-by-day, depending upon the Legislature fulfilling their promise,” Priest said. “We’re going to say that our Legislature started the process and they have a moral obligation to invest in our children and our children’s future. That obligation has not been met yet. Funding for our students is an issue in every schoolhouse in the state of Oklahoma.”

The teachers union has also criticized House and Senate leaders for passing a measure repealing a $5-per-night hotel and motel tax that was part of the original education package. Repeal of the hotel tax reduces the total package by about $45 million.

“It’s just one more broken promise that our educators have seen over the last 10 years,” Priest said.

Although many public schools had shuttered on Monday, some in Oklahoma were offering free meals to students aged 18 or younger while various churches, faith organizations and charitable agencies are providing free day-care services.

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St Vincent volcano: Around 16,000 people flee communities after eruption of La Soufriere | World News

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About 16,000 people have had to flee their ash-covered communities after a volcano erupted on the Caribbean island of St Vincent.

The eruption of La Soufriere on Friday has transformed the island’s usual lush towns and villages into a gloomy, grey landscape.

It was the 4,000-ft volcano’s first major eruption since 1979.

Thousands have had to flee their homes since the eruption
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Thousands have had to flee their homes since the eruption

Thousands of residents have had to evacuate their homes and seek shelter with as many belongings as they could stuffed into suitcases and backpacks.

It comes after a strong sulphur smell was unavoidable on Saturday as ash blanketed large parts of the island.

There have been no reports of anyone being killed or injured by the initial blast or those that followed.

The volcano erupted on Friday
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The volcano erupted on Friday
Roads on the island are covered in ash
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Roads on the island are covered in ash

The had government ordered people to evacuate the most high-risk area around the volcano before the eruption after scientists warned that magma was moving close to the surface.

Government authorities delivered water, food and supplies to the shelters where many had fled to.

The island’s international airport remained blanketed in ash and smoke on Saturday making the runway barely visible.

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Western Australian towns evacuated after tropical cyclone barrels down with 100mph winds | World News

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A tropical cyclone has hit the western coast of Australia with winds of more than 100mph (170km) and much of the area put on “red alert”.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Meteorology, Todd Smith, said cyclone Seroja was now at category two but had reached “category three cyclone intensity” with damaging winds which would continue into the night.

Emergency services opened shelters in preparation for the high winds and coastal flooding.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said in a bulletin: “There is a possible threat to lives and homes.

A police officer stands amid the rubble of buildings during a search for victims at a flood-affected village in Ile Ape on Lembata Island, East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia, Thursday, April 8, 2021. Multiple disasters triggered by Tropical Cyclone Seroja in eastern Indonesia and neighboring East Timor have left a number of people dead or missing. (AP Photo/Ricko Wawo)
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Tropical Cyclone Seroja caused a severe downpour in Indonesia a week ago, killing at least 174 people and leaving 48 still missing

“You need to take action and get ready to shelter.”

The DFES has so far put five coastal towns on “red alert”.

Some towns north of Perth were evacuated while sandbags were being made available to residents further down the coast.

A category three classification can see wind speeds of up to 170mph (224km).

After touching down on the north western town of Geraldton (124 miles/200km north of Perth) and dumping more than 10cm of rain in just two hours, tropical cyclone Seroja headed inland, lessening slightly in intensity.

However, officials were still braced for a “high degree of damage” to buildings in the area.

A spokesman for the Western Australia emergency services department explained that buildings were not constructed to withstand such strong winds in a region as it typically too far south to fall into the path of cyclones.



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Russia: Inside the Kremlin’s military build-up along the Ukraine border | World News

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At the Maslovka railway station just south of the Russian city of Voronezh, there’s a small military camp, a few trucks and a tent.

The clearing in front is rutted thanks to the steady unloading of military equipment in recent weeks.

A soldier recognises us from the day before.

“Hello spies,” he said.

Rutted ground at the railway station at Maslovka, near Voronezh
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The unloading of equipment at the railway station has left the ground rutted

Russia’s military build-up in Crimea and along the border with Ukraine has hardly been subtle.

It has coincided with the breakdown of the latest ceasefire in the simmering conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

More and more videos have appeared on social media of Russian troop movements – artillery convoys along the bridge connecting Russia with Crimea; trains loaded with weaponry coming from as far east as Siberia.

These sightings from ordinary Russians alongside warnings from Ukrainian generals preceded the Russian military’s announcement of exercises in the region and sent alarm bells ringing across Western capitals.

The kit unloaded at Maslovka is headed to a nearby training ground, which has been turned into a huge military field camp.

Magnay submitted - field camp near Voronezh
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Russian forces have created a military field camp near the city of Voronezh

It stretches for around a mile and a half and backs right onto a neighbourhood of dachas, the weekend homes of mostly Voronezh city-folk who tell us the build-up began in late March.

We accidentally drive right in, though the soldiers make no effort to come after us.

There are a large number of military trucks, row after row of tents, troops milling about.

The sign at the entrance is one that most Russian conscripts remember from military service – “Difficult on exercise, easier in the fight”.

The site was first identified through open source methods by the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) in Moscow.

“It looks more like preparing for an offensive operation, not just to protect our land,” CIT’s Ruslan Leviev told us in Moscow.

But he does not believe it’s a prelude to war.

“It looks like a show of force to put pressure on the Ukrainian government, to show your posture on the international stage, to show your position to the new American administration.”

field camp near Voronezh
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The military build-up has hardly been subtle

Locals pottering around their dachas hardly spare a thought for the military build-up next door.

“If Zelensky (the Ukrainian president) isn’t a fool, then nothing will happen. If he is a fool, anything could happen,” said Nina, a pensioner who we meet watering her garden.

“‘Anyway, it’s not him who decides things, it’s the Americans.”

She does not want to give her surname.

“I hope I haven’t revealed any military secrets,” she added.

“There are always exercises here, every summer,” said Yuri, a local guard.

“Stop all this talk of war.”

But there are not exercises on this scale.

Neither here nor elsewhere along Russia’s border with Ukraine.

field camp near Voronezh
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Western calls to de-escalate the situation appear to have been ignored

Not since the annexation of Crimea has Russia beefed up its presence there to this extent, re-deploying an air brigade from near the Estonian border and sending 10 naval vessels from the Caspian to reinforce the Black Sea fleet.

In response, the US has announced it will send two warships into the Black Sea.

The German chancellor asked Vladimir Putin this week to wind down the military build-up.

This Sunday after consultations with his US counterpart, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted the same.

It does not appear to be happening.

The Russian position is clear. What happens on Russian soil is Russia’s business.

It is hard to argue with that.

But ostentatious muscle-flexing around Ukraine is not an option for the West to ignore – the stakes are too high, they are for all involved.

Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky may clamour for fast-track NATO membership but he will not get it.

For all their loud protestations over NATO’s possible eastward-creep, the Kremlin knows that.

US President Joe Biden may declare his unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity but he will be wary of walking anywhere near potential conflict with Russia.

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Ukraine president visits Donbas region amid tensions

And surrounded as he is by Russian forces, president Zelensky knows re-taking the country’s eastern Donbas region, parts of which are held by separatists, is wishful thinking as is any large-scale fight with his powerful neighbour to the East.

It is of course hard to know what Russia is playing at but they seem to be eyeing the long game.

Coercive diplomacy to extract concessions in negotiations on Donbas, a powerful display of military muscle for the new US administration to take note of while the de facto annexation of the separatist regions of Ukraine chugs along apace.

field camp near Voronezh
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Russia seem to be eyeing the long game

According to Russian state news agency Ria Novosti, 420,000 people in the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics have already received Russian passports.

Russia is aiming for one million by parliamentary elections this September.

“It’s unifying their legislation with the Russian one, it’s providing them with the Russian vaccine, it’s providing them with passports. It doesn’t mean Russia wants to annex them,” said Maxim Samorukov from the Moscow Carnegie Institute.

“At least in the near future,” he added.

It also provides quite the justification for full-scale intervention should Russia’s calculus change.

field camp near Voronezh
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The Kremlin is sending a message to Ukraine and the wider international community

President Putin has said allowing Ukrainian troops along Russia’s border with the separatist regions could lead to a Srebrenica-type massacre – the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces.

Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s representative in negotiations on Ukraine, has threatened that a Ukrainian assault on Donbas would be a ‘”self-inflicted gunshot wound in the foot and to the head”.

“If the Srebrenica massacre takes place there, we will have to stand up for their defence,” he said.

Sharp rhetoric to match an aggressive display of military might.

All in the interests of deterrence? Perhaps.

But also an indication that eight years of sanctions has hardly served to deter Russia from at the very least flexing its muscles, if not more.



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