Oklahoma governor refuses teachers’ demands, extending strike

Casey Quinlan Think Progress

Many school districts across Oklahoma were closed Wednesday, as teachers continued their walkouts for an eighth day to protest lawmakers’ failure to meet their meet their demands for increased funding for education.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed legislation that would repeal the hotel/motel tax. Teachers wanted the governor to veto the bill and keep the tax in place, as they said it would create more funding for education. The governor also signed bills that allow casinos to use ball and dice games and require third-party online retailers to collect sales tax. Those two measures would provide the state with $22 million and $20 million respectively.

That’s not enough for teachers, who are demanding an additional $50 million in recurring funding for education.

Teachers have been pressing lawmakers for the elimination of the state’s tax deduction on capital gains, which would reportedly would bring in $120 million annually. The Oklahoma Senate approved such a bill last month, but representatives voted against bringing the legislation to the floor for a vote on Tuesday.

Rep. John Pfeiffer, a House majority floor leader, said lawmakers probably wouldn’t consider any more major revenue bills according to the Associated Press and said, “As far as this year, we’ve accomplished a whole lot, and I just don’t know how much more we can get done this session,”

An Oklahoma state representative, Cory Williams (D), tweeted criticism of Fallin’s approach to the teachers strike.

After Fallin signed the legislation, Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest released a statement, which read, “The governor and lawmakers keep closing the door on revenue options when Oklahomans are asking for a better path forward. Filing for office starts Wednesday. Public education should be the issue this November. We need candidates who are worthy of our children.”

There is a line set up at the capitol for candidates to file beginning Wednesday and ending on Friday. In 2016, dozens of teachers ran for seats in the state legislature. Over 100 candidates filed as of 9:30 a.m.

The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) has shifted its demands and said lawmakers only need to raise $50 million more in revenue for the state budget in order to end the strike. According to KOSU, OEA Vice President Katherine Bishop said that even if there isn’t enough funding for this year, there needs to be recurring revenue for the future and it can’t be a one-time stipend. The OEA is proposing that the funding come from either the wind tax or repeal of the capital gains exemption. Republican senators have proposed wind tax credit reform.

It’s still unclear when the strike could end. The Oklahoma Education Association applied for a permit to continue coming to the capitol next week, according to FOX23 News. The strike began on April 2.

Some teachers are less optimistic this week. Mary Means, a special education teacher from Luther High School told NewsOK, “My heart wants to be encouraged, but I am a little pessimistic. We’d be willing to come out here as many days as it takes, but some of our school systems are calling us back.”

Some parents have also been feeling the strain of the walkout, especially single working parents, who have to find out each day whether schools would open and whether they have someone to watch the kids. The majority of parents have said the strike is not a burden on them, according to an OEA poll.

Last week, teachers said they would end the strike if the governor vetoed the hotel/motel tax and if legislators took action on repealing capital gains exemptions. The governor has already signed legislation approving teacher pay raises of an average $6,100. Teachers initially asked for a $10,000 raise for teachers over three years and $200 million to restore education funding, among other requests.

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Reposted from Think Progress

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