Oklahoma Senate OKs $40 million in new school funding


CITY-The Oklahoma Senate approved two bills Friday created to generate about $40 million (U.S.) more for public schools, but it was unclear whether that would be enough to placate thousands of teachers on a five-day strike seeking more money for education.

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.

The Oklahoma Teachers Association will extend its five-day walkout into next week, group President Alicia Priest said Friday. Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat, a Republican, demurred when asked how to end the standoff.

"I'm not sure what their next set of demands will be", said Treat, a Republican from Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation last week that granted 15 to 18 percent salary increases for Oklahoma teachers, but teachers say more funding is needed for classroom needs. 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 auto".

According to an Associated Press report, defiant teachers have loudly jingled their keys at the capitol since those comments, chanting, "Where is our auto?" Heather Cody, a third-grade teacher at Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa, said Wednesday.

"I felt shameful that it was tough as a superintendent to try to make a decision to spend more money on everyone else's textbooks, or do I give her more than two hours a month of Braille lessons?" "She's not here. She hasn't been here".

State Rep. Cory Williams was even more pointed in his criticism of Fallin.

The bill would affect new teachers and move them to a hybrid cash-balance plan rather than traditional pensions, and would limit new sick days that teachers can put toward their retirement. "No, teachers are people who want a roof that doesn't leak, toner for their copiers and textbooks for the kids".

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"This is a win for students and educators and signals major progress toward funding the schools our students deserve", she said in a statement.

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.

Last week, lawmakers approved the state's first major tax increase in a quarter century, a $400 million revenue package that raised teacher pay by an average of about $6,000.

Tens of thousands of teachers have come to the state capitol this week seeking fresh spending for an education system that has seen inflation-adjusted general funding per student drop by 28.2 percent between 2008 and 2018, the biggest reduction of any state, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The head of Oklahoma's largest teachers' union says if lawmakers want to end a teacher walkout, they must pass a repeal of the capital gains tax exemption and the governor must veto a repeal of a proposed lodging tax.

Oklahoma Education Association Executive Director David Duvall said Thursday that union officials still are crunching numbers on the proposals to expand tribal gaming and tax certain Internet sales that would generate about $40 million dollars annually.

"We will be here Monday and Tuesday to get this done", Priest said.

Many teachers already are back at work, especially in rural communities where local boards didn't vote to shut down.

Several of Oklahoma's largest school districts plan to remain closed Friday, as they have been all week.