Teacher group demands more cash after lawmakers approve $40M
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma lawmakers approved an additional $40 million for public schools Friday, but the head of the state’s largest teacher’s union said it was going to take more than that to end a walkout that has led to five straight days of school closures.
Two bills approved by the state Senate — one taxing certain internet sales and another expanding tribal gambling — will be sent to Gov. Mary Fallin, who will decide whether to sign the revenue-raising plans into law.
Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest told teachers rallying at the Capitol that lawmakers must eliminate a capital gains tax exemption and the governor must veto a repeal of a proposed lodging tax to end the protests.
“We’ve always shown a roadmap forward, and the Legislature has had all the opportunities to make the votes and pass the funding,” Priest said. “Everything is in their corner.”
Some of Oklahoma’s largest school districts have already canceled classes on Monday in anticipation of continued protests.
The Oklahoma Legislature typically does not meet on Fridays, but protesting teachers had packed the Capitol for five days, adding pressure for elected leaders to act.
Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat, a key negotiator on the budget, said union leaders are shifting their focus.
“I’m not sure what their next set of demands will be,” said Treat, a Republican from Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma is the second state where teachers have gone on strike this year. West Virginia teachers won a 5 percent pay increase after striking for nine days. That ignited protests in other Republican-led states, including Kentucky and Arizona.
Fallin has faced the brunt of criticism from teachers, many of whom blame the term-limited governor for supporting tax cuts and generous state subsidies for businesses that have led to declines in state funding for schools and other state services. The governor further raised the ire of teachers after an interview this week in which she likened striking teachers to a “teenage kid that wants a better car.”
Dozens of protesters inside the packed Capitol responded Wednesday by jangling their keys in the Capitol rotunda and chanting “Where’s our car?”
Fallin, a lame-duck governor in her final year, has had scant success in recent years pushing her agenda, despite overwhelming GOP majorities in both chambers. Her proposal last year to generate revenue for teacher raises by broadening the sales tax fell flat in the Legislature. She focused her final State of the State address this year on endorsing a tax-hike package dubbed “Step Up” that was supported by civic and industry leaders, but the measure never made it out of the House.
Ultimately, the governor signed legislation last week granting teachers pay raises of about $6,100, or 15 to 18 percent, as well as tens of millions of new dollars for public schools.
Many teachers already are back at work, especially in rural communities where local boards didn’t vote to shut down. But the state’s two largest school districts, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, announced plans to close for a sixth day on Monday.
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