Gubernatorial Candidates’ Comments on Teacher Strike

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Oklahoma Watch reporter Paul Monies reached out to the 11 declared gubernatorial candidates to ask them what they think about striking teachers’ demands and what more can be done to fund education and get teachers back in their classrooms.

Responses came from the candidates or their representatives. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb’s campaign pointed to an April 2 Fox News interview in which he addressed the strike. Responses have been condensed.

Democrats

Edmondson

Drew Edmondson

“There is long-term damage being done to our state every day because we don’t fully fund public education. The responsibility for that falls squarely into the lap of the Legislature. Teachers recognize that. Parents recognize that. Our business community, which relies on the availability of an educated workforce, recognizes that. It seems that the last people to come to this awakening are Governor Fallin and her legislative caucus. They have the power to end the walkout today, but they seem to lack the political will to do it. If that’s the side of history they want to stand on, they will be asking our kids to pay the price. My guess is that some of those elected leaders will pay the price in November, too, when they are replaced with candidates who will actually make public education the priority it should be. That’s certainly the kind of governor I hope to be.”

Johnson

Connie Johnson

“Local school districts are integral components of the walkout as the walkout is about THEIR people and failing infrastructure. … Districts should and must do whatever is necessary (WIN) in support of themselves.  They should not allow anyone to turn this into an us vs. them moment. … We must not lose sight of the fact that this walkout is a backlash. People are lashing back at a Legislature that is too entrenched to care about their well-being; a legislature that has no real, viable and believable solutions to the problem, and is too arrogant to own it; a legislature that refuses to acknowledge that what they have thrown up on the wall is a mirage, a temporary fix designed to convince the people to go home, to lull them back into a state of complacency. This is a collective moment in which the people of Oklahoma … I believe, are standing in solidarity with educators. … As governor, I have a plan to fund education, and will support public education by including educators in policy decisions so that we never have to come to this situation.”

Republicans

Mick Cornett

“Mick Cornett knows becoming a state that excels in education will take new leadership and priorities in the budget process from the State Capitol. As mayor of Oklahoma City, Mick started the budget process early, he engaged everyone from city councilors to community leaders to citizens. That process has led the city to 14-straight on-time balanced budgets, a 15 percent rainy day fund and the highest bond rating a city can have. Mick is glad teachers are on track to get a raise, which is certainly in the best interest of our state and all our communities. Mick also recognizes it is only the first step in prioritizing education in our state. A teacher walkout, however, is not in the best interest of the state.  Our students should be in class, and he hopes for a speedy resolution to the current walkout.  He will strive to champion education as governor.”

Gary Jones

“I’ve talked to lots of teachers in the last few days and I ask them if they understand how historic what got passed last week was. It was a difficult vote for a lot of these Republicans to vote to raise taxes. I applaud these lawmakers for doing what they thought was the right thing to do. We have to deal with the reality of our state’s finances: Other needs need to be funded, like health care, mental health, corrections. Have to be careful and if you go against people who have supported you in the past, you may win the battle but lose the war. The plan that passed was basically my plan. I think they got as much as they could under the circumstances. If it was 7 percent GPT, the votes weren’t there. If it was hotel/motel tax, the Senate didn’t want that. (You) need to think about what you’re asking for and, if it’s possible, to ask for it later; I think the Legislature has done about all it can do this year.”

Todd Lamb

“The most recent proposal … provides money for a teacher pay raise, but really the package gets an ‘F’ in reform. … I support a teacher pay raise, but reform with it. … Reform that I’m for and support and will require is a minimum of 65 percent of all the education dollars to go inside the classroom. … I didn’t support tax increases for this teacher pay raise because there are other ways to get there. … Last year, billions of dollars was allowed out the door in special giveaways. We can find $400 million, $500 million, $600 million for teacher pay or other issues we need to address in Oklahoma in the billions and billions of dollars Oklahoma allows out the door. … I support getting a great education for our students; we’ve got to reform how that money gets there. And what I don’t want with theses tax hikes, these tax increases, I don’t want a young boy or young girl go home from school and hear their parent lost a job because of a tax increase.”

Richardson

Gary Richardson

“Regardless of what anyone thinks of the walkout, teachers have the legal right to do so under the terms of their collective bargaining agreement. What bothers me most is how easily this could have been avoided. … All signs point back to one root cause — an absence of leadership. … I understand why teachers are outraged and I believe their outrage is justified. They have been sold one false bill of goods after another from lawmakers who turned their backs on their own principles. … Not only has the legislature not done enough, the legislature has actually been detrimental. … But raising taxes is not the answer.  Demanding accountability and oversight of agency spending is the answer. I have pinpointed $450 million in waste and mismanagement we could immediately use to help fund a pay raise without tax hikes. … I believe any mismanagement, waste or theft of our tax dollars is stealing from the children of Oklahoma. … I promise you this – the last place you will find me in a crisis is barricaded behind my office doors.”

Stitt

Kevin Stitt

“Oklahoma needs to take care of our teachers, ensuring they are paid a salary that competes with what educators make in our neighboring states. This crisis in education – and across state government – has been more than a decade in the making, and it will not be solved overnight. Unfortunately, the historic tax package passed last week is another example of Band-Aid solutions by politicians. Where is the money from the lottery, casinos, and horse racing? Once again, politicians tied another set of tax increases to teacher pay that are either regressive or volatile. We have to first bring stability, transparency and accountability to our state budget or else we are going to be faced with a shortfall again within the next decade. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road and hope for different outcomes. … I also support giving some flexibility to municipalities to fund classroom needs instead of tying their hands to new buildings and football stadiums. … I will commit to simultaneously focus on growth while building our middle class.”

Fisher

Dan Fisher

“Every child deserves a great education. As a former teacher myself, I agree that teacher compensation and students’ access to modern educational materials is crucial. Oklahoma has a bad habit of governing by crisis. Then, the legislature raises taxes to throw more money at the problem it allowed to fester. Oklahoma spends just short of 40 percent of state revenue on common education. Our current dilemma exists because we’re not spending that money effectively. Not to mention the other 60 percent of the budget where many more inefficiencies can be found. Oklahoma suffers from a lack of leadership. Our priorities are unclear. We are dependent on bribery to attract and retain business and jobs. Our citizens and businesses would be better served by producing an educated workforce with the skills to compete in a modern economy.  Our state government must make certain that this 40 percent of our budget gets to the classroom instead of trying to squeeze every remaining dime out of our families’ pockets.”

Libertarians

Rex Lawhorn

“The school districts shouldn’t have closed their schools at all.  This is another attempt by the school boards and superintendents … to promote their own agenda, which is to pour more money into a leaky bucket without enacting any real reforms that would fix the issues that caused the classroom shortfalls to begin with. … Teachers are absolutely underpaid. Their classrooms are absolutely lacking necessary materials. … The problem isn’t that we haven’t given them the money, but rather the school boards are directing it to resources outside the classroom, refusing to acknowledge the needs of the two most important aspects of education, the teachers and the students. I don’t believe that raising additional revenue should have been the first course of action, as we still don’t have the oversight or legislative authority to ensure any additional dollars make it into the classroom. … Supporting our teachers and not supporting the school closures are not mutually exclusive options.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic

“I am all in favor of what the teachers are marching for. I have spent two days out there with them. It is not all about a raise; they want respect in the classroom from students and their parents, school supplies and a raise. However, the gas tax (and) cigarette tax just took money right back out of their same pockets. Not to mention, schools pay that same gas tax driving buses. I spent one hour and 31 minutes on hold yesterday with the Oklahoma Tax Commission to see if any of the school bus tax on gas gets repaid and no one knew that answer… None of them make sense when all we have to do is hold departments accountable for the lost or misspent money. And a lot of this could have been solved by working our districts a bit better by not having so many superintendents. Garvin (County) has eight (superintendents) getting paid over 3/4 of a million dollars for only 5,400 students. This could be fixed with smart business.”

Chris Powell

“In my view the problem is less about the amount of funding and more about the revenue structure and the constraints on how districts may use revenue.  I proposed allowing for millage increases on a district or county-wide basis that would increase local funding as well as elimination of tax increment financing districts that rob school districts as well as county governments of funding.  Both of these ideas would mean more local autonomy and less dependence on the Legislature. … Increasing funding through general appropriations seems to me to be likely to embolden lawmakers to further constrain teachers in the classroom. … Calls for more funding without discussion of how to improve the working environment for teachers and improve outcomes for students, particularly when it would be accomplished in a manner that further reinforces Legislative micro-management of the classroom, will not be a long-term fix even if enacted.”

(Note: Republican Dan Fisher and Libertarian Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, responded on Thursday.)  

For a full transcript of the responses from each candidate, go here