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Oklahoma lawmaker: Comments linking teacher pay raise to extortion were ‘taken out of context’

OKLAHOMA CITY -- An Oklahoma lawmaker says his comments seemingly linking pay increases and walkouts to extortion were taken out of context.

Rep. Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield, spoke with a group of about 20 high school students on Monday at the Capitol, answering questions regarding the potential teacher walkout.

A video of the roughly 20-minute discussion, shot by Cache teacher Arletta Stewart, shows Coody explaining the expected costs of giving teachers and state employees raises.

"The price tag of all of these proposals is somewhere to the tune of $1.5 to $1.8 billion," Coody said in the video. "Well, that’s over a third of what we allocate in our legislative appropriations and that’s virtually impossible. Really, honestly…it’s akin to extortion."

Portions of the video have been shared well over 3,400 times on Facebook, with some telling News 4 they found Coody's comments offensive.

"I don’t feel like [teachers are] resulting to extortion by any means. I feel like they have tried many, many venues on how to express their feelings and how to make change," said Cache Public Schools Superintendent Chad Hance. "We’ve rallied at the Capitol, we’ve called, we’ve made email contact.I feel like this is their last plan of action they can resort to, to get something done. To some type of action that will fund public education."

It wasn't just teachers who say they are concerned about pay raises. One Cache student at the discussion questioned the state's priorities when it comes to education.

"We have people that have been certified that have no business teaching what they’ve been teaching. We’ve had teachers work at McDonald's and mow lawns just to make ends meet and it’s ridiculous," she said. "Our priority should be education."

Coody told News 4 he regretted making the comment on extortion, adding it was "probably a little too strong." However, he believes his comments as a whole were taken out of context.

"I was trying to allude to the difficulty we would have as a body, the whole Legislature…the Senate and the House, as well…and under the present fiscal reality of where we are with our budget, exceeding to those demands is virtually impossible," he explained. "It backs us up into a corner that we can’t get out of and ultimately that type of a walkout would do nothing but hurt education and all of us involved."

Hance told News 4 they have no objections to sending their students back to the Capitol if they have more questions for their representatives and senators.