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As a teacher in Oklahoma, I’ve literally panhandled for school supplies. No wonder we’re walking out.

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On April 2, many of my fellow public school teachers across Oklahoma — as well as all of the public school teachers in Kentucky — walked out of state’s schools to protest our insultingly low pay. Following in the footsteps of teachers in West Virginia, educators across the country are standing up for their rights and the rights of their students. This is a national issue that has flown under the public radar for far too long.

I should know. Teachers in my state haven’t had a state pay raise in a decade. This, coupled with a multi-million dollar cut to the Tulsa public school district’s budget last year prompted me to literally stand on the side of the highway, begging passing motorists for donations. I never thought it would come to this; I never thought when I first became a teacher that I would literally be forced to panhandle for school supplies. But I was tired of not having enough money for my classroom, of being expected to always use my limited cash reserves to pay to enrich my curriculum. In Oklahoma, money was so tight in 2017 that some school districts started cancelling Friday classes.

My experience panhandling — and the foundation that I founded, Begging for Education, as a result — proved something important to me: The public stands behind teachers. And yet, politicians continue to stonewall us. This is why we’ve taken matters into our own hands.

If ever there was an issue that should unite us as a nation, it is the education of our children. Research proves that an educated nation is a better nation. A well-educated child is more likely to graduate, find a good job and become a productive, revenue-earning and tax-paying member of the state and communities in which they live.

Put simply, the lack of funding and poor fiscal responsibility in Oklahoma and across the country is setting our children up for failure. And while we’ve stayed silent for years, teachers are simply not going to keep allowing politicians to get away with it.

 Teachers rally at the state capitol on April 2, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. J Pat Carter / Getty Images

On March 29, Oklahoma’s governor signed HB1010XX, a $447 million tax increase that would fund an average $6,000 pay increase for teachers, money for support staff, state employees and textbooks. But this is not enough. It’s been decades since the last state-wide school shut down, and today we find ourselves once again forced to act. And we’re not going to go back into the classroom until we feel confident that the changes are real, and will make an impact.

This inequality starts at the top and eventually trickles all the way down to our students. The public education system continues to be extremely top heavy with people making six figures in the highest administrator jobs, being paid huge sums to unnecessarily micromanage college-educated teachers.

Oklahoma can no longer recruit new teachers or retain our current teachers and many are close to retirement. This crisis is quickly turning into a tragedy.

Meanwhile, as of 2016, “the average annual pay of Oklahoma’s elementary, middle school and high school teachers all ranked last among the 50 states,” according to Politifact. Indeed, after 25 years, and with a Doctorate degree, an educator in the state of Oklahoma are only guaranteed a salary of $46,000 under the current state salary scale. Every local school district in Oklahoma has the authority to implement their own salary scale but many, instead, choose to use the state minimum salary. Local school boards can also increase salaries for educators without state involvement but most do not. Fiscal responsibility and transparency by our superintendents, districts and legislators in Oklahoma is required if we are going to fix this problem in the long term.

This is about much more than a salary dispute. Oklahoma can no longer recruit new teachers or retain our current teachers and many are close to retirement. This crisis is quickly turning into a tragedy. By forcing teachers to pay for students’ supplemental games, activities, art and musical supplies, the state has taken away our ability to be creative. We are being forced to teach to test scores.

Teachers chose education as a profession, not a hobby. And if we do not fully and realistically invest in them, our children will pay the price.

Today’s state-wide walkout has been weeks in the making. The Oklahoma Education decided, unilaterally, that educators should get a $10,000 raise, spread out over three years. Even this meager demand was not met by state legislators.

But in reality, a $10,000 raise is needed immediately. And without this immediate increase in compensation, educators in the state of Oklahoma will continue to change careers, leave for other states and/or retire earlier than planned. And we also need to change annual raises so that they take into account inflation, rising benefit costs and help prevent teachers fleeing to neighboring states.

Teachers chose education as a profession, not a hobby. And if we do not fully and realistically invest in them, our children will pay the price.

Teresa Danks is a third-grade public school teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the founder of the Begging for Education foundation.

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Ireland’s health service shuts down IT systems over ‘significant ransomware attack’ | World News

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Ireland’s health service has closed down its computer systems after what it described as a “significant ransomware attack”.

The Republic’s Health Service Executive (HSE) said it had shut down its entire IT network as a “precaution.”

It said COVID-19 vaccinations were not affected by the attack.

“There is a significant ransomware attack on the HSE IT systems,” the HSE said on Twitter.

“We have taken the precaution of shutting down all our IT systems in order to protect them from this attack and to allow us fully assess the situation with our own security partners.”

It added: “We apologise for inconvenience caused to patients and to the public and will give further information as it becomes available.

“Vaccinations not affected are going ahead as planned.”

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Israeli ground forces launch attacks on Gaza as fighting worsens | World News

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Israeli ground forces began launching attacks on Gaza in a widening of hostilities as Israel braced for more internal strife between its Arab and Jewish citizens following Friday prayers.

The Israeli military said air and ground forces were firing at the Hamas-run enclave, though it does not appear to mean the start of a ground invasion, with Sky News witnessing troops launching artillery and tank rounds from Israel’s side of the border.

“I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force.”

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has intercepted many of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip

Thousands of Israeli forces along with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery are massing along the frontier with Gaza, preparing to push inside if given the order, in what would be a hugely significant escalation.

Unperturbed, Palestinian militants continued to launch rockets from the strip towards Israel into Friday morning.

At least 109 Palestinians have died since the exchanges began on Monday, including 28 children and 15 women, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Palestinian militants have said 20 of their fighters are among the dead, though Israeli officials said this figure is much higher.

Almost half of the deaths happened on Thursday – the deadliest day so far.

On the Israeli side, seven people have been killed, including two children and a soldier.

But this is a crisis on many fronts, as decades of Israeli-Palestinian trauma erupt into clashes on the streets of many towns and cities inside Israel – with Arabs and Jews, who had lived together peacefully, turning on each other, prompting warnings of a risk of civil war.

Synagogues have been attacked, cars torched and individuals beaten up by mobs in the worst internal violence in decades.

New protests could erupt following Friday prayers, with al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City a potential flashpoint.

It was at this walled compound – one of the most sacred sites in Islam, which is also revered by Jews and Christians – that violence between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters on Monday sparked the first volley of rockets from Gaza into Israel that ignited the wider crisis.

A Palestinian boy looks at ruins of buildings which were destroyed in Israeli air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip. Pic:  Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
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The blockaded strip is home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee. Pic: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

There is of course a regional dimension as well.

On Thursday night, three rockets were fired towards Israel from Lebanon. They landed harmlessly in the Mediterranean Sea in what appears to have been a show of solidarity with Gaza by Palestinian groups in Lebanon rather than the start of a separate offensive.

With so much at stake, frantic diplomatic efforts are underway to try to broker a ceasefire.

Egyptian officials have been speaking with both sides as have officials from the United Nations. The US has dispatched a senior diplomat to the region and Russian President Vladimir Putin has added his voice to those calling for both sides to de-escalate.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction”.

He said the goal is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks that are indiscriminately fired into population centres”, and called the effort “a work in progress”.

The UN Security Council is due to hold its first public session on the situation on Sunday after the US objected to an open session on Friday, apparently wanting to give diplomacy a little longer to have an effect.

However, with bombardments between the two sides – unprecedented in their intensity – entering their fifth day, there is no obvious sign that diplomacy is cooling heads.

The Israel Defence Forces has hit close to 1,000 targets in Gaza, including multi-storey buildings, rocket launch sites and individual Hamas military commanders. But this blockaded strip of territory is also home to some two million Palestinians who have no means to flee.

Overnight, masses of red flames illuminated the skies as deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake.

The strikes were so strong that people inside the city, several miles away, could be heard screaming in fear, according to the AP news agency.

At the same time, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a fellow Palestinian militant group, have fired close to 2,000 rockets towards Israel. Many were shot down by the country’s air defence system but some have penetrated deep into Israeli territory, including the commercial capital of Tel Aviv, sending families racing into shelters.

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Fresh uncertainty for UK tourists as Portugal extends ‘state of calamity’ until 30 May | UK News

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Britons hoping for a holiday in Portugal when travel restrictions lift next week are facing fresh uncertainty after the country extended its “state of calamity”.

The second-highest level of alert is going to remain in place until 30 May at the earliest, almost two weeks after the country is added to a “green list” of destinations where holidaymakers can go without having to isolate on their return.

Portugal would have been one of the few options for travellers seeking a quick sunny break, as many of the other countries on the “green list” are either closed to tourists, too cold, or too remote.

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Portugal would have been one of the few options for sun-seeking British tourists

Other popular hotspots such as Greece, Italy, Spain and France are on the amber list, requiring 10 days of isolation and two COVID-19 tests on return to the UK.

The new restrictions cast a shadow over the Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea that is due to take place in Porto on 29 May – an event that has already been moved from Turkey, which is on the red list.

When asked whether restrictions on travel from the UK would be lifted, Portuguese Cabinet office minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said she had “no information to give yet”.

In comments reported by the BBC, she said: “Work is going on and as soon as there is a decision it will be announced, but no decision was taken in this cabinet meeting.”

She said British fans could still come to see the football game but they would need to fly on charter planes, arriving and leaving on the same day.

On Thursday, the world’s largest travel firm warned it may be forced to cancel holiday flights to Portugal, just as the UK allows them again, because of a continuing EU ban on non-essential travel from countries outside the bloc.

TUI, which told Sky News earlier this week that people were giving up on booking a break abroad because of a lack of clarity on the rules, said holidays could not happen unless “borders are open”.

The “state of calamity” means non-residents of Portugal can only enter if their travel is essential, a COVID test is required within 72 hours of departure, and even those with a negative result can still be refused permission to board a flight or be made to quarantine in government-approved accommodation on arrival.

It is understood the UK government has been speaking with Portuguese representatives this week about unlocking travel between the two countries.

The government is also talking to the European Commission about how to safely reopen travel on the continent, the PA news agency understands.

Portugal has reported 840,929 cases of COVID-19, with 16,999 deaths.

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