OEA Makes Oklahoma Public Education Funding A Moving Target With No End In Sight

Photo from NewsOK story: also pictured, Randy Weingarten and Ed Allen
As the teacher's walkout in Oklahoma continues into its second week for many schools in the state, the questions which really need to be asked at this point are "Why?" and "What exactly do teachers want?" 2018 EDUCATION FUNDING LEGISLATIVE HISTORY February 12 - After a plan presented by a large number of Oklahoma businesses and local philanthropists to fund - in part - $5,000 raises for all teachers died in the legislature, rumblings of a teacher walkout began to surface on social media. At that time, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA - Oklahoma's sister to the National Education Association - NEA) indicated a shutdown wasn't planned, but was "something they would consider." February 27th - Though the 2018 budget request included a $3,000 raise for teachers and a bit over 66k for instructional materials, the 2018 budget for the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) - including nearly 2.5 billion in state appropriations - was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Mary Fallin on February 27th without the inclusion of either request. March 6th - OEA President Alecia Priest announces that the union had set a date of April 23rd for the legislature to act to fund teachers raises and school improvements. March 7th - Priest states that although OEA leadership hadn't previously been clear about their plans - a statewide teacher's strike would be called for April 2nd. Priest indicated teachers would remain at the capitol until a way was found to fund teacher raises and classroom needs including textbooks. She then announced a press conference for the following day in the capitol press room. March 8th - During the March 8th presser, just after West Virginia teachers ended a successful strike for increased pay, Alecia Priest, backed by supporters under an OEA banner, issued a set of public education funding demands to include: a $10,000 raise for all teachers, a $5,000 raise for support personnel, a 5% cost of living increase for retirees, a restoration of funding to the Oklahoma public education budget of $200 million dollars over three years, and a $7,500 raise for all public employees. Though presenting an increase of nearly 1.4 billion dollars a year, no proposal was forthcoming for funding the demands. That same day, Ed Allen, Oklahoma American Federation For Teachers (AFT) president said that his teachers had voted to walk out of school on March 28th to "build momentum" for the walkout on the 2nd. At the State Board meeting that day, at least two Board members expressed concern about teacher walkouts, indicating that the matter of funding teacher salaries was best taken up by individual districts who direct school budgets and not the legislature. March 15 - Speaker of the House, Charles McCall introduces a plan to increase teacher pay by $20,000.00 over 6 years costing over $700 million dollars, but no funding mechanism was immediately identified. The OEA immediately condemned the plan calling it a "political stunt". March 23rd - Teachers, public employees and others stage a press conference to release their proposal to fund 906 million dollars for education. They reiterated that if funding was secured prior to April 1st, a statewide teacher walkout would ensue. Revenue would be raised by increasing gross production taxes on oil and gas, a $1 per pack tax increase on cigarette sales, diesel and gasoline tax increases at the pump, restoration of the Oklahoma earned income tax credit and an elimination of the capitol gains deduction. March 28th - The House of Representatives passes a bill - the first to reach the 3/4 vote requirement in since passage of the 1992 state question setting the bar - to head off the impending teacher walk out, raising $434 million dollars via taxes on tobacco, gas and diesel fuel, increase gross production taxes on oil and gas and a new $5 tax on hotel-motel stays. The Senate says they will pass the bill with a repeal of the hotel/motel tax to which the industry had strenuously objected. That night, the Oklahoma Senate passes the package including the hotel/motel tax, promising to repeal this measure in another, later bill. Alecia Priest issues a press release saying that although they are appreciative of the new funding
measures, "There is still work to do to get this legislature to invest more in our classrooms." March 29th - The House of Representatives passes the bill and it is signed by Governor Fallin that evening. April 2nd - Teachers walk out of their classrooms and descend on the capitol grounds with signs in hand to rally for more education funding. April 4th - Day three of the teacher walkout, the House passes a bill to collect internet sales taxes expected to generate more than $20 million to be earmarked for education and the 'Ball and Dice' bill which would allow Oklahoma Indian Gaming to institute games such as roulette and craps. Taxes from these games are estimated to bring in nearly $22 million dollars. OEA President Alecia Priest is quoted as saying,
"But our elected leaders have more work to do for our students. We look forward to letting the Senate hear our voices on this measure and HB1013xx, known as 'Ball and Dice'. Together, these two measures will nearly double the increase in funding for Oklahoma students."
April 5th - Day four of the teacher walkout, the Oklahoma Senate passes the 'Amazon' and 'Ball and Dice' bills. Though nearly $70 million in new education funding has been passed by the House and Senate (not including $6100 teacher raises), OEA's Priest says they have asked for $75 million in one year, is concerned about the repeal of the hotel/motel tax and is concerned that taxes on motor fuel and tobacco products won't last beyond a year. She now begins to lobby for a repeal of the capital gains tax exemption. Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat says that the budget was passed pre-Aril 1st as required and he doesn't see that changing. He says that after passing nearly a half billion dollars worth of education spending the legislature has acted and defers a decision to teachers as to when the strike will end. April 6th - Day five of the teacher walkout, the Oklahoma Senate passes a bill to repeal the hotel/motel tax. OEA says that the teacher walkout will continue on Monday, calls on Governor Fallin to veto the hotel/motel tax repeal bill and to repeal the capital gains tax exemption - a move estimated to bring in $100 million dollars. A bill ending the capital gains tax exemption was unable to pass due to pressure from agricultural interests who rely heavily on the exemption to keep slim profit margins intact. April 9th - it is unknown when the teacher walkout will end or what exact funding number will be acceptable as the target appears to move with each bill passed during this, the second special session of the 2018 legislature. At this time, it appears the legislature has raised nearly $70 million in funding including the teacher raises passed at $61,000 each, exceeding the original 'Step Up' Plan's $5,000 per teacher raise.