TULSA, Okla. — Teachers across Oklahoma have gathered in Oklahoma City since April 2 to pressure lawmakers to increase education funding.
The rally is part of a statewide teacher walkout that has forced schools across the state to shut down, some indefinitely.
WATCH: FOX23 will continue to cover the rally in OKC and the impact in Green Country
Teachers and protesters have returned every day to continue protests.
Supporters of the teacher walkout also rallied in places like Tulsa's 71st Street, where people lined the street from Aspen to Memorial.
WATCH: FOX23 was at the scene
WATCH: Teachers share stories of camaraderie and care during walkout rally
FOX23 talked to a Jenks school employee who remembered heading to the state capitol for protests over education funding and teacher pay in 1990.
WATCH: Area teacher remembers 1990 funding fight
Wednesday, teachers from Tulsa started walking to the state capitol to voice their concerns. They plan to walk more than 100 miles over a few days.
At the state capitol, a crowd of teachers and protesters appeared to rival the numbers of those who had gathered Tuesday.
Other state employees also rallied for higher wages and better funding.
Teachers expressed frustration Monday after they learned that Governor Mary Fallin's parking spot at the state capitol was empty. A spokesperson said Fallin had a busy schedule and would not be at the capitol to talk to teachers Monday.
FOX23 confirmed Fallin met with Mustang, Moore and Chisolm school districts on Tuesday.
Governor Fallin released a statement on the rally, supporting a previous legislative push for higher teacher wages, and claiming legislators are only able to provide higher education pay as the "budget allows."
I appreciate teachers coming to the Capitol today to talk with their elected officials. During the past three years, I have called for an increase in teacher salaries. I was very proud to join with leaders of both parties to sign the largest teacher pay increase in Oklahoma's history. This legislation will provide an average teacher pay raise of $6,000 to our teachers. That is a 16 percent average pay increase for teachers. An additional $50 million was allocated for the state aid funding formula and textbooks. In total, this represents a 19.74 percent increase in the appropriations for public schools.
Just like Oklahoma families, we are only able to do what our budget allows. Significant revenue-raising measures were approved to make this pay raise and additional school funding possible. We must be responsible not to neglect other areas of need in the state such as corrections and health and human services as we continue to consider additional education funding measures. I look forward to continuing to talk with legislative leaders and teachers as we forge a positive pathway forward for education.
She signed bills funding $2.9 billion for education across the state, a state employee raise bill and an education support personnel pay increase bill. State lawmakers had passed the bills last week. The measures would raise funding for state employees and education support personnel by $1,250.
FOX23 talked to her about the walkout Wednesday:
However, many teachers became more upset with Fallin after she made comments in a national interview comparing teachers to teenagers that want a new car.
Why Are Teachers Walking Out?
The Oklahoma Education Association announced in early March that they would organize a walkout if legislators did not agree to a satisfactory education funding plan by April 1. In addition to a $10,000 teacher pay raise, the organization is seeking a raise for support employees, $200 million in public school funding and $255 million in health funding during the next two years.
WATCH: Teachers describe resource issues that need funding
What Have Lawmakers Done?
Both chambers of the legislature passed a $447 million plan that was signed by Gov. Mary Fallin on March 29. It included a tax on gas, diesel, tobacco and raised the gross production tax to 5 percent. It also included a $5 hotel/motel tax, but it was quickly repealed by house lawmakers.
The repeal of the hotel/motel tax is expected to remove about $50 million in funding.
The Oklahoma Senate met in special session at Friday to consider HB 1019xx, the marketplace fairness act or so-called "Amazon bill," as well as HB 1012xx- that bill was passed and sent to Gov. Fallin.
Fallin released a statement after the passage:
When the governor's office receives the bills being heard today in the Senate, the governor will review them 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 Amazon bill is estimated to generate approximately $20 million and when added to growth revenue in the state budget more than makes up for the hotel/motel tax.
The Senate passed HB 3375, the so-called “ball and dice” bill. It now goes to Gov. Fallin's desk.
A bill that repeals the “hotel/motel” tax that was originally included the $530 million revenue package (HB 1010xx) passed by the Legislature last week that completely funds the largest teacher pay raise in state history.
On Wednesday, 3 days into the walkout, House lawmakers passed HB1019xx. The law would require third-party sellers on the internet, such as Amazon, to pay state sales taxes. The funds would allegedly help the state's education funding.
Lawmakers estimate the law would bring in $20 million each year. The senate is set to vote on Thursday.
Why Are Teachers Still Walking?
The Oklahoma Education Association said the plan signed by the governor is a “down payment on our children’s futures,” but they said that it didn’t meet the needs of students and educators. The package only raises about half the revenue of OEA’s proposal.
On the day before the walkout, OEA outlined a series of three steps for lawmakers to take to address their concerns:
- Close the estimated $50 million gap created by repealing the hotel/motel tax.
- The Senate should pass HB1013, eliminating prohibition on certain types of gaming.
- The House should pass Senate Bill 1086. This would limit the time period during which certain capital gains max be deducted.
How Long Will The Walkout Last?
Many district leaders told FOX23 they plan to survey teachers daily to determine when schools will reopen. Most have only confirmed they will close on April 2, but some have said they are prepared to close all week.
What Can Students Do During The Walkout?
Several area churches and organizations announced plans to offer childcare for a limited number of students during the walkout. The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club will offer free care at six Green Country locations.
Some school districts, including Tulsa and Broken Arrow, plan to offer for meals to students who eat at specified lunch sites. Check with your child's district for additional information.
How Are Officials Reacting?
House Speaker Charles McCall thanked teachers, administrators, students and school support staff who expressed concerns about education funding Monday:
Our teachers and school staff are very important for the future of our state, not only for the education of our children but also for the health of our economy. I appreciate their willingness to visit the Capitol and talk directly with their elected lawmakers. We can better serve our constituents when we hear from them. Our teachers do invaluable work, and the House has recognized that by passing a significant pay increase that begins to move teacher pay in the right direction. We should be doing all that we can to encourage veteran teachers to stay and young teachers to enter the profession, and we certainly need to find ways to invest even more into the classrooms where it can help improve student outcomes. What we have accomplished for our teachers and schools is historic, but it shouldn't be. Funding public education appropriately and paying teachers competitively should be a normal occurrence. The House will continue working for additional funding for education because our children's future is always worth the investment."
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