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AP News Guide: The ongoing teacher protest in Oklahoma

April 8, 2018

Music teachers and students perform and sing, "We're not gonna take it" by Twisted Sister in front of the Oklahoma State Capitol as part of their protest in the Oklahoma teacher walkout, Friday, April 6, 2018. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma teachers plan to continue massive demonstrations at the state Capitol to keep the pressure on lawmakers to find more money for public education.

Classes were canceled at some of the state’s largest school districts last week and will remain closed Monday as thousands of educators, students and their supporters keep up the protest.

Educators in Oklahoma — among the lowest-paid in the nation — have joined a rebellion in several Republican-led states. A strike by West Virginia teachers inspired the movement, which also spread to Kentucky and Arizona.

Here’s a look at what’s happened and what could lie ahead:

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WHAT DO TEACHERS WANT?

GOP Gov. Mary Fallin in late March signed off on the state’s first teacher pay increase since 2007, giving them a boost of about $6,100 a year.

But leaders of the state’s largest teachers union say that’s not enough.

Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest on Friday demanded that lawmakers pass a repeal of a capital gains tax exemption and called on Fallin to veto a repeal of a proposed lodging tax.

The $5-per-night lodging tax would generate about $50 million annually but has faced fierce opposition from business interests and the hospitality industry. Axing the capital gains tax deduction would generate about $120 million annually.

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WILL ELECTED LEADERS GIVE IN?

In some ways they already have.

Oklahoma Republicans have struggled to get the three-fourth’s majority needed to pass tax increases, but they finally pushed through hikes on cigarettes, fuel and oil and gas production to fund the teacher pay increases.

Conservative lawmakers who went against the party orthodoxy in voting for higher taxes expected thanks, but instead teachers walked out anyway.

Fallin appeared to reflect their frustration during an interview that drew further ire.

“Teachers want more, but it’s kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car,” Fallin said on CBS News.

Dozens of protesters responded Wednesday by jangling their keys in the Capitol rotunda and chanting, “Where’s our car?”

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COULD TEACHER PROTESTS HELP DEMOCRATS?

Democrats have been losing legislative seats in many red states for years, and the intensity of the education movement is an opportunity.

The Oklahoma Democratic Party set up a tent outside the Capitol during teacher protests and urged demonstrators to register to vote.

“I think we have a lot of momentum,” Party Chairwoman Anna Langthorn said.

It happened in Kansas. Republicans there approved massive personal income tax cuts beginning in 2012, and budget shortfalls blocked education funding increases. A backlash against the GOP in 2016 led to the defeat of more than two dozen conservative state lawmakers, although some of those members lost to more moderate Republicans in primaries. The Legislature in 2017 reversed many of the tax cuts.

Oklahoma Democrats would have to make massive gains to end their minority status. Republicans hold 40 state Senate seats to eight for Democrats. They hold 72 House seats to 28 for Democrats, with one seat vacant. The open governor’s seat will be a main target in November.

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WHEN WILL THE WALKOUTS END?

Fallin has asked teachers to return to their classrooms, but Priest says teachers are prepared to protest as long as it takes for the Legislature to meet their demands.

Monday is the earliest the bill to end the capital gains deduction for corporations and individuals could be considered.

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Associated Press writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report.

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