OKLAHOMA CITY - Education officials stand ready to walk out of classrooms across Oklahoma, despite a move by legislators to give teachers just over half what they requested in pay raises.
Senators passed a new tax plan in Oklahoma Wednesday to fund pay raises for local teachers, days before teachers across the Sooner State say they will walk out of their classrooms over low education funding and teacher pay.
The move comes after the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to approve a $447 million plan that increases taxes on gas, tobacco and diesel. It also raises the gross production tax to five percent.
The original bill added a $5 hotel/motel fee. However, the House approved an amendment to remove the tax from the revenue package.
The House plan will reportedly fund an average $6,000 raise for teachers, as well as raises for support staff and state employees. The Senate adjourned Wednesday without voting whether to raise wages for support staff or state workers.
The Senate version of the bill also stripped the hotel/motel fee, and the House legislators will vote on the repeal at a later date.
The State Senate voted Wednesday to approve funding for teacher raises in a 36-10 vote, while the Oklahoma State House of Representatives voted on the measure Monday, passing it with a 79-19 vote.
A separate measure approved by both the House and the Senate will reportedly provide an additional $85.3 million for teacher pay by changing the state income tax code.
Both legislative houses also voted to approve tiered salary raises for teachers across the state. The plan reportedly provides first-year teachers with a $5,000 pay raise and allows higher raises to teachers with more experience. A teacher with a doctorate and 25 years of experience would reportedly receive an $8,300 pay raise.
The votes come just days before teachers across the state say they will walk out of their classrooms over low pay and education funding.
The Oklahoma Education Association asked legislators to give teachers a $10,000 raise statewide and provide an extra $5,000 for support personnel over the next three years. They also want $200 million in additional funding for public schools and $500 million for state employees and other agencies.
Statewide education officials have not called off the walkout, but education leaders in Bartlesville reportedly said the Senate's move could keep them from suspending class.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed the bills on Thursday evening.
Response from Officials:
Governor Fallin released a statement applauding the bipartisanship involved in the plan's passage:
This is an historic evening for the state of Oklahoma. I applaud the bipartisanship shown in the Senate tonight and in the House of Representatives earlier this week by passing House Bill 1010XX. Those voting yes answered the call from the public by voting teachers a pay raise and putting the state on a solid foundation for the future. I will follow through on their courage and action by signing House Bill 1010XX. I appreciate our lawmakers putting people over politics by approving this package of revenue measures to fund teacher pay raises as well as provide additional money for the classroom. This budget package also helps set us on a path to long-term sustainability and stability by making more recurring revenue available and helps us to stop balancing our budget with one-time funds.
The Oklahoma Senate Pro Tempore released a statement Wednesday:
The Oklahoma Senate took a historic step that will have positive and long-lasting impacts on the success of our state. One of the most important factors in the success of our students is a quality, professional teacher in the classroom. Passing the largest teacher pay raise in state history moves us to No. 2 in the region in average teacher pay and will help Oklahoma retain quality teachers. It’s a significant investment in economic development because an educated workforce is essential to growing and expanding our economy. For more than 15 months, the Senate has worked tirelessly to fund a significant teacher pay raise. This is a responsible plan that answers Oklahomans’ call for the Legislature to find a solution to teacher pay. I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for their dedication to finding a solution and seeing a teacher pay raise come to fruition,” said Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus.
The head of the Oklahoma Education Association said educators still plan to descend on Oklahoma City April 2.
Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks affirmed that the move was just the beginning of lawmakers' push to better fund education in the state:
The votes in the Senate tonight were an important step, but this should be the beginning of our efforts, not the end. I want to thank the education community who made these votes possible. Thousands of teachers, school support staff, administrators, school board members, parents, students, and concerned citizens have organized for many weeks to mobilize a historic grassroots movement that pushed the legislature to act. The Senate Democrats stand with you and will continue to fight on your behalf. This is progress, but it should not be a one-time deal. Moving forward, we need to make sure that Oklahoma invests in education. This means we need sustainable revenues that will allow us to restore funding for our classrooms which has been cut for over a decade. We’re giving teachers a much deserved raise now, but we need to continue to improve teacher salaries in Oklahoma in coming years. We also need to continue working to provide much needed salary increases to school support personnel and state employees. The job is not done. We will continue working tomorrow and for the remainder of the legislative session to properly fund education in Oklahoma.
The head of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association praised the move:
This is an incredible moment for Oklahoma teachers and students. I’m so grateful to the senators who voted yes tonight, to the many legislators who chose children and compromise over politics and public education’s tireless advocates.
But my biggest appreciation is for Oklahoma’s teachers, who have shouldered the burden of a severe teacher shortage and budget cuts with admirable dedication and resolve. Even when asked over and over again to do more with less, they stayed to educate and love our children. They have earned the largest teacher pay raise in state history and a debt of gratitude that no amount of money can repay.
House Speaker Charles McCall released a statement following Monday's vote:
Today, the House of Representatives passed a true bipartisan solution to one of the major problems we are facing as a state. This plan was developed with input from both Republican and Democrat leadership. It is not a perfect plan, but inaction is simply not an option; it is time to move Oklahoma forward. House Republicans have been negotiating in good faith with House Democrats, the Senate and the Governor’s Office for well over a year in search of a bipartisan solution that would increase our teachers’ pay and put more money into the classroom. These negotiations take time, and the three-fourths majority requirement in our state Constitution means we had to find a true compromise deal that would bring 76 votes in support. It has been exceedingly difficult, but Oklahomans expect us to solve problems. Within the last several days, we have been able to find a compromise and breakthrough the stalemate.
There have been a lot of tough votes taken over the last year in search of a solution, and I commend the members of the House for their perseverance to move this plan one step closer to the finish line. We voted together to build a better and stronger Oklahoma.
Deborah Gist, Tulsa Public Schools superintendent, said the House vote was historic, and though the district is grateful, she said the plan is not enough.
Today marks a historical moment for Oklahoma teachers, students, and families. By passing HB1010xx, our state leaders came together to make a critical investment in the future of our state, and I am grateful to our legislators for standing up for public education. Without any question, this moment would not have been possible without the thousands of passionate, courageous, and tireless teacher-advocates who led this historic effort to bring about much-needed change in our state.
This accomplishment is a first step in a longer journey. We have an extraordinary amount of work ahead of us to continue to undo a historical underinvestment in education, which preceded a decade of funding cuts to education and other social services. Moving forward, we must continue working tirelessly together - teachers, parents, elected officials, and all Oklahomans - to restore funding to the many critical services that our children need to grow up safe, healthy, and well-prepared for the greatest success in college, careers, and life. This is not over.
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