Updated at 5:57 p.m. April 12 

After Negotiations Break Down, Education Association Calls Off Walkout

The state’s largest education association called on teachers Thursday to return to their classrooms after concluding that further attempts to convince lawmakers to find more money for public education would be futile.

About Our Rolling Coverage

A threatened teacher and state employee walkout in early April casts a shadow over the legislative session and could disrupt the lives of parents, children, educators and many others should it go on for days or weeks. Oklahoma Watch reporters are paying close attention and providing regular updates as the walkout date approaches.

Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said the nearly two-week-long teacher walkout should be seen as a “victory” since it or the threat that preceded it helped secure teacher pay raises and millions in new funding for schools.

But Priest said the Legislature fell short of “its responsibility to Oklahoma’s students” after House and Senate Republican leaders refused to consider additional legislation to raise revenue and add more into the state’s K-12 funding formula.

Priest said educators must now “turn their attention towards the election season” after a majority of the group’s members concluded that continuing the walkout likely wouldn’t change lawmakers’ minds.

The decision to end the walkout, which put the state in the national spotlight as thousands of educators converged on the state Capitol each day, proved to be controversial.

Many teachers took to social media to criticize the move, saying the education association should have continued to try to convince lawmakers to act. And as several school districts announced they would reopen either Friday or Monday, some teachers said they would ignore the OEA’s message and continue the walkout.

Priest, however, maintained that the group’s members are “ready to return to the classroom.”

And she said the decision to end the walkout doesn’t mean they are giving up. She said educators have started a “movement” and can continue their efforts by working to elect pro-education candidates, including teachers who filed for office this week, in the November elections.

“We got here by electing the wrong people to office,” she said. “No more. We must support candidates who have helped us achieve our goals and vote out those who have not.”

Broken Arrow middle school teacher Helen Beth Davis filed to run for District 80 representative at the Capitol on April 11, the eighth day of the teacher walkout. Credit: Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Updated at 5:55 p.m. April 11 

Walkout’s Future in Question as Campaign Season Begins 

Education leaders and rank-and-file teachers remained defiant Wednesday in their bid to secure more money for schools despite a call from Gov. Mary Fallin urging lawmakers to turn their attention to other matters.

But as the eighth day of the teacher walkout ended, questions continued to swirl over how long the work stoppage would last and whether November’s elections would be a more realistic avenue to eventually increase education funding.

The crowd size inside and outside the Capitol on Wednesday was slightly smaller than past days this week. Teachers and education advocates, however, continued to make their presence known with frequent chants, including “we won’t leave” and “do your job,” filling the Capitol.

The Oklahoma Education Association, meanwhile, passed out pamphlets urging teachers to continue visiting their representatives to tell them “to make a long-term investment in our children’s future.”

But after Fallin essentially rejected two of the education group’s revenue-raising proposals Tuesday, OEA hinted that the ballot box might be the best bet for changing attitudes at the Capitol.

“The governor and lawmakers keep closing the door on revenue options when Oklahomans are asking for a better path forward,” OEA President Alicia Priest said in statement late Tuesday. “Public education should be the issue this November. We need candidates who are worthy of our children.”

The education group also tweeted and passed out a graphic to supporters on Wednesday showing that 95 percent of the educators’ demands have already been met.

But OEA stopped short of calling off the walkout as lawmakers once again didn’t hear bills that could raise revenue for public education. And despite a few districts announcing they will reopen Thursday, most of the bigger school districts remained closed, ensuring the walkout will enter at least a ninth day.

Several teachers who were at the Capitol on Wednesday said they support continuing the walkout until lawmakers satisfy their demands to find tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue for education.

Kevin Burlison, a U.S. history teacher at Westmoore High School, said even if his school reopens later this week, he wants the walkout to continue until lawmakers find the money.

“We are pushing for that last little bit,” he said. “We haven’t come all this way for just getting a little (of the OEAs’ full demand). We don’t want to be back here next year or the year after that.”

Michelle Ross, a fourth-grade teacher at Timber Ridge School in Broken Arrow, said she believes there is still public support to continue the walkout even if it continues into a third week.

But even if the walkout does end without lawmakers meeting OEA’s full demands, she said it would still be worth it.

“We have been heard and we have been seen,” she said. “If they did call it off, maybe school would start but you’ll still see people coming to the Capitol.”

Annette Williams, a teacher at Harrah Public Schools, was among hundreds of candidates to formally file Wednesday for legislative races on the first day of the state’s three-day filing window.

Williams said teacher pay raises and increases in education funding that have been passed are a “good start.” But she said she made the final decision to run for the Republican nomination for the District 96 House seat earlier that day after concluding she would be disappointed if the walkout ended without further legislative action.

“We have not finished,” she said. “We have more support than we ever had, and I think we can continue that into November.”

A crowd outside of the Capitol on the 8th day of the Oklahoma teacher walkout. Credit: Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Updated at 4 p.m. April 11

Oklahoma Teacher Walkout by the Numbers 

9 – School days impacted so far.

500,000 – Estimated students out of school (on Monday, according to the Tulsa World). That’s approximately 70 percent of all Oklahoma students.

7,500 – People who have visited the governor’s office since April 2.

8,500 – Emails the governor has received since April 2.

15,000 – Cost in dollars per day, according to the Office and Management and Enterprise Services. This is for extra building maintenance at the Capitol, including trash pickup, damage repair and janitorial services.

29,000+ – Meals served by Oklahoma City Public Schools and Tulsa Public Schools, the state’s two largest school districts.

528 – Millions of dollars in revenue raised by passing HB 1010 (increasing taxes on fuel, cigarettes and oil and gas production) and HB1011 (limiting itemized deductions), before the walkout out started.

2.9 – Billions of dollars in education funding approved for fiscal year 2019 as part of budget passed before the walkout started.

19.7 – Percent increase in education funding for fiscal year 2019, which includes an additional $353.5 million for teacher pay, $52 million for support personnel pay, $33 million for textbooks, $17 million for the state aid formula and $24.7 million for flex health care benefits, compared to the current fiscal year.

2 – Number of major revenue-raising bills (legalizing Vegas-style casino games and requiring Amazon and other online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes from third-party vendors), totaling about $40 million a year that will eventually go toward education, that passed during the walkout.

7 – Times the GOP-led House voted down motions to allow a floor vote on a bill that could free up $100 million or more a year by ending the capital gains deduction.

33 – Teachers and support staff who have reached out to a group of marketing professionals called Brand New State to express interest in running for office. The group is offering free campaign services to educators.

Teachers prepare to rally at the Capitol Tuesday, the walkout’s seventh day.

Credit: Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

Updated at 7:05 p.m. April 10

Fallin, Legislators Reject Educators’ Demands as Walkout Heads to Day 8

In a single move early Tuesday evening, Gov. Mary Fallin rejected two of the main demands education leaders said could end the teacher walkout that has closed schools throughout the state for more than a week.

Fallin, in a rebuff to the Oklahoma Education Association, signed a bill that repeals the $5-per-night hotel tax that was originally included in the tax proposal passed last month to pay for teacher raises.

And in a statement announcing the move, Fallin joined GOP House members in saying she would oppose efforts to eliminate the state’s capital gains deduction – a tax break costing the state more than $100 million a year.

Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest said on Friday that teachers would return to work if Fallin were to veto the hotel tax repeal and lawmakers end the capital gains deduction.

But with those two demands now off the table, the fate of the walkout is unclear.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools, along with many other districts through the state, announced they will say closed Wednesday. But what’s uncertain is teachers’ will to shut down classes as the likelihood lawmakers will find more money for public education becomes dimmer by the day.

Fallin did check off two tasks education leaders prioritized. As expected, she signed bills Tuesday to require Amazon to collect sales taxes from third-party vendors and legalize Las Vegas-style ball and dice gaming in casinos.

Those two measures will eventually send about $40 million a year to education. But the ball and dice portion wouldn’t apply until fiscal year 2019.

In a statement announcing the signing of the hotel tax repeal, Fallin said “today’s action should complete funding K-12 for the 2019 fiscal year,” and encouraged legislators to turn their attention to “other issues.”

Fallin’s moves came after a relatively uneventful day at the Capitol.

Both the House and Senate finished their floor work without considering any new revenue bills. And for the sixth time during the walkout, House Republicans rejected a Democrat-led proposal to force a vote on the bill ending the capital gains deduction.

Earlier in the day, the Oklahoma Education Association repeated its call to end the capital gains break. But the group indicated it also would support alternative revenue-raising measures, such as a proposal to cap wind tax credits.

A bill to cap some tax credits, with much of the revenue coming after fiscal year 2019, narrowly passed a House committee Monday. But GOP leaders haven’t said whether it has the support to make through the full House or Senate.

The Oklahoma Education Association didn’t immediately respond to Fallin’s actions Tuesday. And it is unclear whether they will make new demands or end the walkout without getting their full ask.

Wednesday marks the first day of the state’s three-day filing period for candidates, adding to the drama.

A number of teachers have already indicated they will seek legislative seats, and both parties have been active in recruiting candidates to challenge incumbents. But regardless of whether the walkout ends this week or not, there is no doubt that education will be a major campaign issue this year.

Updated at 5:05 p.m. April 9

History of Tax Break for Wealthy  Undercuts Some Lawmakers’ Claims 

For the fifth time since Oklahoma teachers left their classrooms, House Republicans refused to hear a bill that would an end a lucrative tax break for high earners and potentially bring an end to the one-week-old teacher walkout.

Eliminating the capital gains tax deduction – something that largely benefits the wealthy – would free up $100 million or more a year that could be used for education and to shore up the state budget. A state-commissioned consulting group last year recommended the tax break be repealed.

The Oklahoma Education Association announced Monday that the teacher walkout will end when the Legislature eliminates the capital gains deduction and Gov. Mary Fallin vetoes a measure that strips a $5-per-night hotel tax.

As thousands crowded inside and outside the Capitol Monday, teachers intensified their lobbying around the two demands.

But with a 26-58 partisan vote, the GOP-led House once again rejected the procedural maneuver from Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, that would have brought the bill straight to the floor. It previously passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority.

GOP leaders have repeatedly said they won’t hear the capital gains bill because House Republicans were promised they wouldn’t vote on it if they backed the 5 percent oil and gas production tax rate that was part of the big tax package that passed before the walkout began.

Undoing Voters’ Will?  

Several top Republican lawmakers, along with groups that support keeping the capital gains tax, have also argued that they are trying to respect the will of the voters.

House Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, said last week that he regularly hears complaints from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about attempts to meddle with voter-approved ballot measures.

Just as lawmakers, special-interest groups and citizens complained about legislation last year to alter two criminal justice-related state questions approved by voters in 2016, he said he believes people would “stand up” and say lawmakers “went against the will of the voters” if they repeal the capital gains exemption.

He was joined by others, including the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, which made a similar argument about why the tax break should stand.

The full story, however, is more complicated.

In 2004, Oklahomans did indeed approve a state question that created the capital gains deduction, among a number of other changes to the tax code. State Question 713 passed with 53.4. percent of 1.4 million voters supporting it.

But only 15 words of the 185-word ballot measure related to capital gains.

The rest of the state question revolved  around an unrelated proposal that increased taxes on tobacco products and lowered the top income rate to 6.65 percent – a rate that was eventually lowered to 5.25 percent.

A University of Oklahoma archive of state question political advertisements and state Ethics Commission records shows that in media coverage and public debate, the tobacco tax and income tax provisions overshadowed the capital gains portion.

Many of the ads highlighted the debate about the cigarette tax, the OU archives show.

The bulk of the campaign contributions against the measure were from tobacco companies. Health-care companies were the biggest supporters, according to a breakdown from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Regardless of the history, however, GOP House lawmakers have shown no signs of reversing course and acceding to the teachers’ demand.

Educators, however, indicated that the walkout will enter at least its seventh day as they continue to pressure lawmakers to take up the bill or find equivalent funds elsewhere.

Updated at 5:02 p.m. April 6

Educators Clarify Demands as Walkout Heads Into Second Week 

The Oklahoma teachers’ work stoppage will enter its second week after educators accused lawmakers of failing to find enough new revenue to end the walkout.

Following five straight days of protests and rallies that brought tens of thousands of teachers and public education supporters to the Capitol, the Oklahoma Education Association Friday called on schools across the state to remain shut down until legislators meet their demands.

But for the first time since the walkout began, the association announced exactly how lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin could end the walkout.

Alicia Priest, president of the educators trade group, said teachers will return to work if Fallin vetoes a just-passed bill that repeals the $5-per-night hotel tax and eliminates the state’s capital gains exemption.

The announcement came shortly after the Senate gave final approval to bills that would require Amazon to collect sales taxes from third-party vendors and legalize Las Vegas-style ball and dice gaming in casinos.

If signed into law, the two measures will eventually send about $40 million a year to education. But the ball and dice portion wouldn’t apply until fiscal year 2019.

The overall infusion comes on top of other education funding measures lawmakers passed before the walkout — a $2.9 billion appropriations bill that includes money for an average teacher raise of $6,000, $33 million for textbooks and $17 million boost to the state aid formula.

But Priest said that still doesn’t fix problems caused by years of budget cuts.

Retaining the hotel tax and ending the capital gains deduction could generate a total of about $166 million a year (although how much the capital gains proposal would bring in for the upcoming fiscal year is unclear) according to state projections.

But the prospects of either of those demands being met are uncertain.

The hotel tax was originally part of the teacher pay and education funding measures that were passed before the walkout began. But the Senate requested the tax be stripped through a separate bill to guarantee their support for increasing taxes on cigarettes, motor fuel and oil and gas production.

With a 42-3 vote in the Senate on Friday, the bill just needs Fallin’s signature to become law.

But in an unusual statement before the vote, the governor’s office only said she would review the bill, along with two other measures passed by the Senate, with her staff.

“This is her usual practice to check the language of the final version, and to ensure the bills satisfy legal and constitutional requirements,” the statement read.

Senate Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus, however, said he doesn’t expect a veto from Fallin.

And even if she did, lawmakers could override that action with a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Meanwhile, House Republicans have repeatedly said they don’t intend to put the bill to end the capital gains exemption – a tax break that costs Oklahoma about $120 million a year and largely benefits high earners – to a floor vote.

Through the week, Democrats have tried to use procedural motions to force a vote. But those have failed despite the fact the bill easily passed the Senate with bipartisan support.

If either of the OEA’s demands are non-starters, Priest said the group would accept something else with “equivalent” funding.

But Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, told a group of educators following Friday’s floor sessions that GOP leaders could be convinced to take up measures they previously pledged not to hear.

“As the pressure keeps mounting, they’ll get creative until they run of options other than capital gains, income taxes or whatever,” he said.

Updated at 4:40 p.m. April 5

Revenue Bills, Teacher Strike in Limbo as Political Pressure Intensifies

Three bills that could potentially boost education funding by a total of about $160 million a year are just one vote away from reaching Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.

But the fate of those proposals – and whether the passage of all or some of the bills would be enough to end the teacher walkout that is headed for a fifth day – remains up in the air.

On Friday, the Senate is expected to take up two bills that have passed the House: A $20.5 million proposal, with revenues earmarked for public education starting in 2020, to require Amazon collect sales taxes from its third-party vendors, and a $24 million gaming expansion bill known within the Legislature as “ball and dice.”

The Oklahoma Education Association supports both bills as part of its demand for more education funding.

If the Senate passes the two bills, legislators could return to their districts for the weekend with two significant revenue generators headed to the governor’s desk.

But while education leaders haven’t said whether the $44.5 million the two measures would raise annually is enough to end the walkout, Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest signaled it is a major step forward.

“Together, these two measures will nearly double the increase in funding for Oklahoma students since the walkout started,” she said in a Facebook message posted late Thursday night. “This is funding that can be used to buy new textbooks, bring back arts and music classes and fund support staff raises. This is exactly what we’ve been fighting for.”

However, the new revenue might not be immediately available for education.

Legislative leaders said they don’t plan to change the $2.9 billion education budget, which includes added money for raises and increases to the funding formula that were part of the revenue package Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law this week.

But whether teachers are satisfied with the assurance the funds will go toward future budgets could decide the fate of the walkout.

Meanwhile, for the fourth straight day, House Democrats attempted procedural maneuvers Thursday to force a vote on a bill that would end the capital gains tax deduction.

The Senate passed that GOP-authored proposal, SB 1086, last month on a bipartisan 30-9 vote.

Removing the tax break, which a state-commissioned consultant found largely benefits high earners and hasn’t shown a net return to the state, has been a focal point for education supporters and Democrats. Its elimination could generate about $120 million a year for education or other state services.

But it doesn’t look like it’s coming up for a vote in the House.

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, revealed during floor debate Thursday that in exchange for securing GOP votes on last week’s revenue package, there was an agreement that the capital gains bills wouldn’t be heard.

“(The Democratic leadership) was aware they could either have the 5 percent (gross production rate) or the capital gains tax,” he said. “And I have that in writing signed by (three Democrats).”

House Democrats responded by arguing that the original deal included capital gains. And they argued that Republicans went back on the same agreement by stripping the $5 hotel-motel tax from the revenue package.

Rep. Claudia Griffith and other House Democrats argued that giving teachers an increase in funding to entice them to go back to work is more important than honoring the deal.

“But (what’s in the agreement) is not the point of this,” said Griffith, D-Norman. “The point is to stay and finish the job with what we have available.”

– Trevor Brown

Updated at 12:58 p.m. April 5

Thinner Crowd

Compare Tuesday and Thursday images from the Capitol Rotunda:

Updated at 6:05 p.m. April 4

Gubernatorial Candidates’ Comments on Teacher Strike

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.



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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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

Updated at 3:00 p.m. April 3

Calls for New Revenue Intensify on Walkout’s Second Day

By Trevor Brown

The Capitol was packed again as teachers ratcheted up the pressure on lawmakers to boost public school funding and end their two-day-old work stoppage.

It is unclear if the crowd size matched the thousands who converged on the Capitol Monday, but educators and supporters still crowded the building so much that state troopers had to limit entry because of safety and fire-code concerns.

Chants of “fund our schools” and “kids are worth it” could be heard throughout the building’s five main floors.

And, in perhaps some of the highest tension so far in the walkout, Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette, threatened to use security to clear a packed House gallery when educators and their supporters booed and yelled during the end of their floor session.

That incident also led Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, to post a Facebook Live post where he said he wouldn’t vote for education-funding bills because of how the crowd acted.

“And now, they come into this House, they want to act this way. I’m not voting for another stinking measure when they are acting the way they are acting.”

The result was the same as the previous day: The Legislature again quickly finished their floor work without hearing any bills that could raise more money for public schools.

This ensured the walkout will continue for at least a third day as several school districts announced Tuesday afternoon they will stay closed Wednesday.

Despite the legislative inaction, there was a renewed push Tuesday to urge lawmakers to take up bills that would boost education funding beyond the pay package — giving an average raise of $6,000 — that was passed and signed into law last week.

Those efforts centered around urging the House to pass a bill to end the capital gains income tax deduction – measure that could raise up to $100-$150 million a year for public education or other state services.

As they did Monday, Democrats attempted procedural maneuvers to force a vote during the brief time lawmakers were in session Tuesday. Those attempts, however, were once again voted down by the GOP-controlled legislature.

Democrats additionally tried to force a vote on a bill, which had previously won approval in the Senate, to give teachers receiving a pension a 4 percent cost-of-living increase. But that proposal was also tabled.

Lawmakers could be poised to take up new revenue measures as early Wednesday. They have schedule a Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget meeting for 11 a.m., but, as of Tuesday afternoon, it is unclear what, if any, bills they will consider. No bills were on the agenda as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, but lawmakers spent a chunk of the post-floor-session caucusing.

Updated at 4:48 p.m. April 2

Teacher Strike Is Undeniably Historic, But Its Effects Are Less Clear

By Trevor Brown

The state Capitol saw its biggest crowd in decades as thousands of teachers and public education supporters converged to protest for higher wages and more money for classrooms.

But the first day of a planned teacher walkout produced no activity on the floors of the House or Senate and left many attendees wondering what will happen next.

Both chambers completed their work Monday without taking up any additional revenue-raising measures. This came despite warnings that many schools throughout the state will continue to be shut down unless the Legislature goes further than a teacher pay package that Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law last week.

The proposal to boost the average teacher’s salary by $6,000 by increasing taxes on cigarettes, motor fuel and oil and gas production, while also capping how much can be itemized on income taxes, failed to prevent one of the largest public demonstrations in Oklahoma’s history.

News helicopters, drones and media through the state and country watched as thousands filled the north lawn and parking lot area of the Capitol. A steady stream of protesters walked around the Capitol or waited for entry in the building.

Throughout the day, teachers chanted and listened to speeches outside the Capitol. Meanwhile, those who managed to make it inside searched for their lawmakers to make the case why they deserve more funding.

Many teachers said the walkout isn’t just about pay. It’s about restoring the millions of dollars in budget cuts that public education has endured throughout the years.

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, encouraged his fellow lawmakers to spend the day listening to the concerns of those who crowded the Capitol Monday.

“While we may have our disagreements on the floor, I think we all agree these citizens took their time to come tell us their opinions,” he said. “We should listen to them respectfully and promptly, and I think we should all welcome them to the House of Representatives.”

House Democrats argued the Legislature should have done more Monday than just listen.

Lawmakers in the minority party unsuccessful tried to force a floor vote Monday on a proposal to end capital gains income-tax deductions, a bill that would raise about $120 million to fund education or other state services.

After House Republicans blocked parliamentary motions to hear that bill, Democrats, including Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, took to Twitter to decry the move.

Lawmakers and educators left the Capitol on Monday with many questions over what the Legislature will do – or not do – next and whether educators can hold out and continue their walkout until their demands are met.

These demands include securing funds for $4,000 in additional raises over the next three years and restoring education cuts.

Earlier Monday, the Oklahoma Education Association said, “We’ll keep coming back until we have a deal.” But as of Monday afternoon, the group was waiting to see just how many districts will continue to be closed and whether Monday’s turnout can be replicated Tuesday.

Updated at 5:50 p.m. March 29 

Q&A: Newly Signed Teacher Pay Bill 

Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday signed legislation to increase teacher pay through higher taxes on oil and gas wells, cigarettes and fuel, and capping the itemized deduction on state income taxes.

Questions remain about the April 2 walkout and what, exactly, the new laws mean.

How will Oklahoma stack up in terms of teacher pay?

The minimum salary for a first-year teacher will be $36,601, a $5,001 increase. Raise amounts increase with experience—a 25-year teacher would see a bump of $7,700. The amounts are built into the minimum salary schedule and are not a one-year stipend.

The average increase under the new pay scale would be $5,920 next school year. Add that to our average salary of $45,276 and our new average would be about $51,000 (though it could differ slightly depending on how many teachers are on each step in the scale, and how many hold advanced degrees). The U.S. average is $58,353 (in 2015-16, according to the National Educators Association). Texas’ average is $51,890, but in the Fort Worth-area many districts start at $50,000 or more.

Teachers who work in districts that pay above the minimum salary schedule also will receive equivalent raises, based on years of experience.

Are teachers still planning to walk out on Monday? How about Tuesday and beyond?

Teachers will be rallying at the capitol Monday; Tuesday is more of an unknown. Before this week’s legislative action, most school districts planned to close Monday and stay closed indefinitely. But on Thursday, some began rolling back those plans. Western Heights Public Schools, for instance, notified its parents it would be closed Monday but open Tuesday. Bartlesville Public Schools, a leader in the walkout movement, was undetermined as of Thursday. Early results of survey of teachers found about a third would still walk out without their school’s support, but more than a third of teachers were unsure what they would do. The survey is being conducted by the Facebook group Oklahoma Teacher Walkout – The Time Is Now!, which has more than 72,000 members.

Gov. Mary Fallin signs legislation to increase teacher pay March 29 as legislators look on. Credit: Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

How will the pay raises be funded?

The Legislature has passed the $2.9 billion common education budget and the funding mechanism for pay raises. House Bill 1010xx increases the gross production tax on oil and gas wells to 5 percent for the first 36 months, after which they will revert to 7 percent; levies a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes and little cigars; and adds 3 cents a gallon to gasoline and 6 cents a gallon to diesel fuel. The House on Thursday approved a separate bill that removed the $5-per-night hotel-motel tax, which was necessary for the Senate to send the bill to the governor and not have a second vote on the major revenue package. Other legislation lowers the amount of itemized deductions allowed on a state income tax return to $17,000.

Updated 10:30 p.m. March 28

Passage of Teacher Pay Hike Hailed, But Rumblings Continue

The Legislature on Wednesday night performed what many thought even days ago was unthinkable: The Senate voted to send a more than $400 million tax bill paying for a teacher pay hike to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.

The Senate secured the exact number of votes needed to meet the three-fourths majority required for passage, and Fallin indicated she will sign it. The package would increase taxes on cigarettes and motor fuel and raise the gross production tax for oil and gas from 2 percent to 5 percent during the first 36 months of production.

A controversial $5-per-night hotel tax is also included, but GOP leaders said they plan to repeal it in a separate bill Thursday.

After a suspenseful 15-minute period Wednesday night, when the vote seemed close to failing, Sen. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, provided the needed vote to put it over the edge.

Minutes later, the Senate handily passed the $353 million teacher pay package, which will fund an average annual teacher raise of $6,000. Lawmakers were soon joined on the floor by Fallin, who vowed to sign both measures as soon as possible.

Senate leaders and Fallin called the day “historic”, as both chambers approved a major tax increase for the first time in decades.

Despite the votes, a teacher walkout and rally are still expected to occur on Monday, bringing thousands of teachers to the State Capitol.

The Oklahoma Education Association applauded the Legislature’s action but said that “lawmakers have left funding on the table” and “there is still work to do.”

The OEA released an agenda for teachers to protest inside and outside the State Capitol starting 9 a.m. Monday. The group said this will continue beyond that day “unless there’s legislative movement.”

But whether rank-and-file teachers and school districts across the state heed the call is in question.

Fallin said after the vote that she is worried about students missing the instruction they need and meeting test deadlines. “It’s up to teachers to decide” what to do next, she said.

“But I hope they can come up here and say, ‘Thank you,’ on Monday and go back to the classrooms,” Fallin said.

Some legislators signaled they want to see more done for school funding this session. Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, D-Norman, said the approved plan “should not be a one-time deal.

“The job is not done. We will continue working tomorrow and for the remainder of the legislative session to properly fund education in Oklahoma,” he said.

Whether Republicans have the appetite for another big tax push this session is unclear. There are about two months left in this year’s regular session.

Senate leaders said they still must vote Thursday on raises for school support staff and state employees. Lawmakers also must pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year and close a $167 million revenue shortfall that was identified at the start of the session.

The impact of Wednesday’s votes on election campaigns also must be sorted out in the coming days and weeks.

Restore Oklahoma Now, which is organizing a state question to raise the gross production tax to 7 percent for all wells, said it will now reassess whether to move forward on the effort.

“What our organization will do if the Legislature passes a significant pay plan for teachers is a matter of speculation, but no decisions have been made,” the organization said in a statement. “The RON organizers will make their decision whether to pursue the petition signatures and a full-blown campaign this fall based on a number of factors.”

Another possibility is that Wednesday’s vote could spur a group to place a different state question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, announced before the Senate’s vote the formation of Oklahoma Taxpayers United!, which plans to fight tax increases passed by the Legislature.

Among the options being explored is a veto petition that would repeal the tax increases.

Brooke McGowen, a member, said the group also plans to recruit and encourage candidates to challenge Senate lawmakers who support the tax increases.

“It is our hope challengers are ready to oppose them and the rest of the 51 (House) Republicans who supported the largest tax increase in the past 25 years,” she said. “Any willing candidates out there, we are ready to speak with you.”

-Trevor Brown

Updated at 12:30 p.m. March 27

After Historic Tax Vote, Uncertainty Remains

The Oklahoma House made history late Monday when, for the first time since 1990, it passed a massive tax hike to pay for a teacher raise package.

The 79-19 vote to raise taxes on motor fuel, tobacco products, hotel stays and oil and gas production paves the way for teachers to receive an average $6,000 raise for the next school year.

But the bill still needs to survive a Senate vote and, even if it goes to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk, it’s unclear if it will be enough to prevent a shutdown of much of Oklahoma’s public school system.

Shortly after passing the bill, the Oklahoma Education Association announced the teacher walkout will proceed as planned. It is scheduled to begin Monday.

The group is holding out for its full list of demands. That includes a plan that would fund the full $10,000 pay raise over the next three years. Educators also want lawmakers to restore years of cuts made to public education.

The House plan also calls for giving state employees raises ranging from $750 to $2,000, depending on their current pay. But the Oklahoma Public Employees Assocation, which is planning its own work stoppage on April 2, also said the House package falls short.

The question is how long a teacher or state employee walkout will last if only the House proposal is signed into law before April 2.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister and some education groups, including the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, expressed support for the House bill. That could dampen teachers’ willingness to prolong any shutdown, despite OEA President Alicia Priest’s repeated declarations that teachers will shut down schools until they are completely satisfied.

On Tuesday, Priest said OEA is “still looking at what actually passed and how close it got us to our numbers” before suggesting whether a prolonged walkout is justified if the House’s plan is signed into law before April 2.

Although she said the April 2 rally will proceed regardless of what happens, Priest said “they may be saying thank you or they may be asking for more funding” when they get to the Capitol.

In terms of prospects in the Senate:

Earlier this year, the Senate took up a revenue package that would have restored cuts to the earned income tax credit, set a 4-percent gross production tax rate for the first 36 months and increase cigarette taxes by $1 and motor fuel taxes by 6 cents.

The proposal would have raised about $450 million and increased teachers’ pay by 12.7 percent.

But the bill fell two votes short of the three-fourths requirement in the 48-member chamber, failing 34-12. All eight Democrats and four GOP senators voted against the plan.

If Republicans who supported that proposal vote for the new House plan and Democrats follow their counterparts in the House, the bill should pass.

But if GOP senators are wary of some additional tax increases– namely a 5-percent gross production tax – lawmakers could be back to square one.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said Tuesday he wasn’t sure if there is enough support in the Senate for it to pass. Although he said the Senate is committed to a pay raise for teachers, he said senators need to study the details of the House’s plan.

Different special-interest groups are lobbying senators from both parties to reject the plan.

Freshman Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, tweeted last night that teachers are pushing him to reject the House’s plan since it doesn’t go far enough.

Hundreds of oil and gas industry workers gathered in the Rotunda Tuesday to protest a hike in the oil and gas production tax. Many wore shorts saying “#rally4therigs”. Credit: Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

Meanwhile, a couple hundred oil and gas workers crowded the Capitol Tuesday as part of a pre-planned “Rally for the Rigs” organized by the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association and the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association.

Leaders for the groups, which have said a 5-percent gross production rate is too high, encouraged workers to focus on lobbying the Senate before the vote, which could come as early as Wednesday.

Updated at 4:20 p.m. March 23. 

Little Consensus on OEA Revenue Package

With just four scheduled legislative days until lawmakers hit the deadline that could lead to the shutdown of schools across the state, Republicans and Democrats remain divided on how to give teachers a substantial teacher pay raise.

After legislative proposals to fund teacher pay raises failed to gain traction in recent weeks, the Oklahoma Education Association unveiled its own proposal Friday.

In the first year, the OEA plan restores about $310 million in state budget cuts, including $75 million for public education, and provides pay raises of $6,000 for teachers, $5,000 for support staff and $2,500 for state employees.

But the $905.6 million package to pay for the plan mostly includes revenue-raising proposals that have failed to pass the Legislature.

Hours after OEA unveiled its plan, Republican and Democratic legislative leaders offered support for elements of the proposal but stopped short of actually endorsing it.

One of the main sticking points remains how much to raise the gross production tax on oil and gas wells.

The OEA’s proposal to increase the rate from 2 to 5 percent for the first 36 months of production is important because 5 percent is the lowest amount many House Democrats say is needed to win their support.

But many Republicans have repeatedly said the 4 percent rate (as was included in the failed Step Up Oklahoma plan) is as high as they would go.

Some rank-and-file lawmakers, such as first-term Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, have backed plans that would raise the rate to 5 percent. But GOP leaders, who decide what bills make it to the floor, have yet to endorse any plans at that rate.

Since most major revenue-raising proposals require a three-fourths supermajority to pass the Legislature and would need bipartisan support to do so, lawmakers appear, absent a compromise, to be headed toward a showdown with teachers — who have vowed to walkout until their demands are met.

Two bills currently moving through the legislature that fall in this category are proposals to cap itemized tax deductions, except for charitable contributions, and eliminate the capital gains tax deduction.

The two proposals were among those included in OEA’s demand. But these alone would fund only about half of the $6,000 teacher pay raise that the group is seeking and provide no money to restore budget cuts or give raises to support staff and state employees.

And OEA President Alicia Priest maintained the group’s vow Friday that any teacher pay bills that fall short of their full demands won’t stave off the walkouts.

She additionally ruled out one option discussed by some lawmakers that would allow voters to decide whether to pay for teacher raises by putting various tax-raising proposals on the November ballot.

Lawmakers would only need 51 percent votes to send these proposals to the ballot. But Priest said that is too little, too late.

How long a teacher walkout will last and who will blink first remains to be seen if lawmakers fail to meet the educators’ demands by April 2.

But OEA Executive Director David DuVall said he believes lawmakers will “find the political will” when thousands walk out on the job and come to the Capitol to protest.

Updated at 11:15 a.m. March 22

Long-Time Teachers Benefit Most from McCall Pay Plan

The proposed teacher pay plan from House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, former House Education Committee Chair Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, and the Professional Oklahoma Educators would do a lot for long-time teachers who are near retirement but not as much for the entry-level and early career teachers whose pay has driven the debate.

The leadership plan, which McCall and the educators group dubbed “60 in 6” because it would raise the highest-tier teacher salary to $60,000 over six years, would give teachers who have worked 19 years a 51 percent raise by the time they have worked 25 years. For first-year teachers, the raises wouldn’t be as generous, with their pay increasing by 34 percent over six years.

If the pay plan passes and remains in effect, rookie teachers would eventually end up in the 25-year, $60,000 spot as well. The average teacher pay in Oklahoma is roughly $45,000, close to the median household income. But starting-out teachers make far less — $31,600.

Currently, under the state’s minimum pay schedule a first-year teacher can expect a 7 percent pay raise, or $2,300 above their starting salary of $31,600 after six years. Under McCall’s plan, a first-year teacher could expect a 34 percent pay raise, or $10,800 above the $31,600 starting salary after the sixth year.

McCall was well into the March 15 press conference to announce the plan before he addressed the elephant in the room: how to pay for it. Turns out, the House and/or Senate has passed simple-majority legislation expanding gambling and removing the capital gains deduction, changes that would cover the first of a projected six years of gradual teacher pay increases. But since the state Constitution prohibits a current Legislature from financially or legally binding a future one, McCall’s plan was largely based on trust — something many teachers apparently have in short supply, given their willingness to walk out. McCall’s message was to let lawmakers implement the pay raises over a number of years but, with patience, teachers will get there.

The Oklahoma Education Association immediately blasted the plan as a “political stunt” and reiterated support for the April 2 walkout.

Other plans have been suggested, but McCall’s is the only one to spell out how raises would be given to teachers with various years of experience. However, plans, from House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, have proposed various funding sources.

The $10,000-pay-raise plan put forth from OEA and walkout supporters didn’t include funding suggestions. OEA later said it was prepared to propose funding sources if the legislature doesn’t.

Updated at 1:45 p.m. March 15

Lawmakers’ Responses to Threatened Teacher Strike

In this March 8 story, Oklahoma Watch reporters contacted all 35 representatives who voted against the Step Up Oklahoma plan to ask them if the potential for a widespread teacher walkout made them reconsider their votes or their opposition to Step Up and other similar revenue plans. Here’s what the 17 lawmakers who responded said.

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman (via Twitter)

“I fully support this bold funding ask for teachers, support personnel, and classroom funding. The only way to pay for this is a bold revenue plan that includes a substantial increase in the gross production tax to at least 5 percent.”

Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater (via Twitter)

“Hey teachers, it’s not enough to demand a pay raise. It matters where the money comes from. If I give you a $10,000 raise but take $7,000 through manipulation of the tax code, that’s net $3,000 and you don’t have a lot to show except the press release we send out.”

Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw (emailed statement)

 “I do agree with reallocating funds from wasteful spending to help fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise.   That would put Oklahoma teacher pay at the 5th highest in the US, when adjusting for cost of living.  There are several bills pending now to cumulatively reach and exceed the $260 million necessary for that $5000 teacher pay raise, without a tax increase.  … Raising taxes before we ensure the current tax money is being spent right is equivalent to having a hole in the bottom of the boat, water pouring in, and trying to dip the water out with a bucket in hopes of not sinking.”

Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa (phone interview)

“We’re not lacking on solutions. We’re lacking on agreement, and I think that if the folks that have the least are expected to pay the most, that’s not a plan I’m willing to get behind. I think it’s just reasonable to expect to the wealthiest industry in the world to start paying a higher gross production tax. … (Teachers) deserve to be heard.”

Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City (emailed statement)

“I haven’t rethought my vote on Step Up because I still believe it was a deeply flawed plan. But as I tried to make very clear in my debate against it, I firmly believe teachers need a $10,000 raise to make us competitive, and a $15,000 raise to make us the envy of other states in our region. … I have supported from the start, and will continue to support revenue measures like 7 percent, or even 5 percent gross production tax, and the restoration of the income tax cuts that have happened over the last several years.”

Rep. Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield (emailed statement)

“I am 100 percent in favor of giving Oklahoma’s teachers a pay raise, but I am absolutely opposed to taxing Oklahomans excessively in order to pay for that raise. I would be in favor of sending any individual tax proposals to a vote of the people to let them decide what they’re willing to bear to pay for a raise. … I am hopeful that there will be no walk out as I do not think that will help our students and ultimately will damage education in the eyes of the public.”

Rep. Colin Walke, D-Oklahoma City (phone interview)

“We can’t go back in time and nor was there a strike on the table. Now that it’s here, I still don’t think that Step Up is the right plan. … I think the lynchpin for any plan has to see an increase in the gross production tax on oil.”

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa (phone interview)

“My hope is that with this additional pressure we feel the need to fund things appropriately. … I have a hard time criticizing teachers who have continued to fight for a long time. I support them in what they’re doing.”

Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore (emailed statement)

“I do agree with reallocating funds from wasteful spending to help fund a $5,000 teacher pay raise.  That would put Oklahoma teacher pay at the 5th highest in the US, when adjusting for cost of living.  There are several bills pending now to cumulatively reach and exceed the $260 million necessary for that $5,000 teacher pay raise, without a tax increase.  … I would also have been willing to send the Step Up Oklahoma tax proposal to a vote of the people.  As far as different revenue packages, I haven’t heard anything specific, but I look at each proposal individually and based on its own merits. ”

Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha (emailed statement)

“The Step Up Plan was never a good plan. It was calculated to take the pressure off attempts to increase GPT to a level that is reasonable. It was also a punitive attempt to chill the development of renewable energy in Oklahoma. Finally, it was not a solution. It simply took the pressure off of my attempts to increase teacher pay to reasonable levels and did not properly fund education costs. I voted against the Step Up Plan and would do so again.”

Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City (emailed statement)

“I do agree with reallocating funds from wasteful spending to help fund a $5000 teacher pay raise.  That would put Oklahoma teacher pay at the 5th highest in the US, when adjusting for cost of living.  There are several bills pending now to cumulatively reach and exceed the $260 million necessary for that $5000 teacher pay raise, without a tax increase.  … I would also have been willing to send the Step Up Oklahoma tax proposal to a vote of the people, but it is not right for politicians to force people to pay more in taxes without letting the people vote on it.”

Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa (phone interview)

“Oklahoma’s perpetual crisis is not due to the fact that middle-income families and the working poor aren’t paying enough taxes. The reason we’re in a perpetual crisis is Gov. Fallin and her allies in the Legislature have cut income taxes and gross production taxes. … We’re going to have one shot at getting the right revenue package this session, and it needs to bring in the right revenue. In my view, Step Up Oklahoma was not that plan and didn’t go far enough.”

Rep. Steve Kouplan, D-Beggs (phone interview)

“We’re still searching for a revenue package that will address the needs in education beyond a teacher pay increase. That was a big reason I was against Step Up. It didn’t address 4-day weeks, more classroom funding or attracting new teachers. … Everybody wants raises but nobody wants to be specific on how we get there; it would have been nice if (The Oklahoma Education Association) had finished the equation.”

Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola (phone interview)

“If that vote came up again today, I would vote against it. It was just taking money out of one pocket to put it in another. It was on behaviors with the cigarette tax but it was also a tax on gas and that will cost every teacher who even is a nonsmoker. I think the walkout was a  little premature and I would’ve rather them wait for us to consider some things that are still on the table. There are a lot of creative ways we can that done. Oklahoma is also on the move and our economy is just getting stronger.”

Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah (emailed statement)

“The Step Up Plan did not put one new dollar into our schools.  Our teachers deserve a raise, and I believe it needs to be more than $5,000.  Our schools deserve better funding.  The only way we get there is to restore the gross production tax to seven percent. It’s time for the Oklahoma Legislature to show we care more for our teachers and our schools than we do about the big oil companies.”

Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City (phone interview)

“(Step Up Oklahoma) was not the correct package. … I agree with the message of the teachers. I’m really glad they’ve decided to come together and really take a stand for their profession.”

Rep. Carl Newton, R-Cherokee (emailed statement)

“I wasn’t there for the vote. However, earlier we had a proposal that was better. It was call the A+ plan. I say it was better in it received 71 votes which is much higher than step up. It was even being opposed by oil and gas raising to 4%. I think this plan has the best chance to succeed if anything could pass.”

Teacher Pay: Rankings and History

For much of the past half century, teacher pay in Oklahoma has been well below the national average. In only one decade, just after the millennium, did compensation rise significantly, only to fall in this decade.

The chart below doesn’t factor in cost of living, which varies within a state. One study by the website EdSurge did rank Oklahoma 17th lowest in teacher pay when cost of living is taken into account.

Updated at 1:32 p.m. March 10 

Q&A: Five Questions About Teacher Walkout

Q: Can teachers legally strike? Would they be paid? 

A: Sort of. Oklahoma law prohibits a teacher’s union from striking or threatening to strike “as a means of resolving differences with the board of education.” The Oklahoma Education Association says a statewide walkout to protest school funding with the Legislature doesn’t fall under that category.

Organizers of the current situation don’t use the term “strike” – although generically it means a refusal to work as a form of protest – and instead say it’s a work stoppage or suspension of schools. Many school boards and administrators support this.

As long as schools are closed during a walkout, teachers would still get paid. If a school opted not to close, and its teachers walked out, they would have to use approved leave or risk being docked pay or disciplined.

On Saturday, the  Oklahoma Public Employees Association said it will develop plans for joining teachers in a work stoppage on April 2. OPEA’s attorneys are researching their options.

Q: What would a walkout planned for April 2 mean for spring testing?

A: The tests could be postponed, but not canceled. English and math exams for third through eighth graders, science exams for fifth and eighth graders, and a high school assessment (either the ACT or SAT, depending on the district) are federally mandated. Many high school juniors plan to take the ACT on April 3 or the SAT on April 10. If schools are closed for teacher advocacy, tests could be made up later, similar to procedures when schools are closed for weather.

“Our general plan is when the kids come back, we would have testing,” said Chuck McCauley, superintendent of Bartlesville Public Schools, a district with more than 6,000 students.

Testing for third- through eighth-grade students extends through April 20 for paper/pencil exams and April 27 for online testing, and a make-up day for the ACT and SAT is scheduled for April 24. Joy Hofmeister, state superintendent of public instruction, said the state Education Department is hearing local districts won’t make a decision to disrupt school without a plan to make up tests, as well as instructional hours or days below the minimum that are required. Still, she seems concerned about the timing. “There’s a way we can advocate that doesn’t impede a child’s education for a significant period of time,” she said.

Q: What would happen to athletes, games and other extracurricular activities? 

A: The matter will be handled on a district-by-district level and could depend on a given district’s specific work-stoppage strategy.

In a letter to parents, Mustang Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel wrote that a “total shutdown” would include a shutdown of all after-school events. But he said another option is a “contract day shutdown,” which would allow school officials to stay home during their normal work hours but participate  in sports, prom and other activities.

Q: Would online schools close? 

A: In a letter to teachers, David Chaney, superintendent of Epic Charter Schools, said the 14,000-student district will stick to its calendar and remain open through the end of the school year. But Chaney noted that Epic “shares the sentiment of teachers across Oklahoma” and suggested that Epic faculty participate in the district’s March 14 Capitol Day to advocate for higher teacher and state employee pay.

A statement from the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association was unclear about whether its members would close. “We stand with teachers from across Oklahoma as they take their message to the Legislature,” Barry Schmelzenbach, the association’s board president, said in the statement.

Q: What would happen to students who eat meals at school and parents who need child care? 

A: About 436,000 children in Oklahoma get free or reduced lunches at schools. Community groups are starting to plan for how they will mobilize to feed children and offer child care if schools shut down. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy will post a list of resources by community at http://oica.org/resources/ for parents to see.  The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma is examining ways to provide more food to children in 24 counties in the event of a walkout. The organization is looking at where to add sites to distribute food, and where the needs would be greatest.

“We will focus our work to reach underserved areas,” executive director Eileen Bradshaw said in a statement.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County are also making plans for extended hours in April. Normally, the clubs provide after-school programs except during school breaks and summers. The 35,000-square-foot Memorial Park Club site will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. if there’s a teacher walkout, said Jane Sutton, president and chief executive officer of the club. The organization doesn’t know if it will be able use space at two schools it routinely uses for activities: Telstar Elementary in Midwest City and Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Oklahoma City. 

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