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Organizers expected 20,000 for education rally on Wednesday

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Organizers of an education rally planned for Wednesday at the state Capitol expect up to 20,000 people to attend to demand adequate funding for public schools.

The state's two largest districts, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, will close for the day to allow teachers to attend the event. Edmond, Muskogee, Broken Arrow and Woodward are among other districts that will also close.

The rally, which is being sponsored by the Oklahoma Education Coalition, will feature speakers including Gov. Brad Henry, Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, and minority leaders in both houses. Teachers, parents and administrators are also expected to speak.

Some of the organizations in the coalition are supporting a temporary 1-cent sales tax to fund common education, which is facing a $158 million shortfall in the current fiscal year.

Henry has said he does not support such a tax.

And Keith Ballard, Oklahoma State School Boards Association executive director, said pushing a tax is not the point of the rally.

``It is an education rally,'' Ballard said. ``It is about children.''

``I think this provides an opportunity to increase awareness and an opportunity for frustrated teachers, community leaders and mothers, frustrated about the plight of education, to visit with their lawmakers at the Capitol,'' he said.

``The purpose of the Rally is to reinforce the need for an immediate solution to the funding crisis our schools are experiencing and to show that there is tremendous support to do something about the crisis now. If we don't _ something will be done for us, in the form of school judgments, property tax increases and massive layoffs,'' the Oklahoma Education Association says on its Web site.

``The purpose of the Rally is not to promote one solution. Instead, the purpose is to make it clear that we need a solution or solutions NOW to avert a deterioration of education in Oklahoma.''
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