OKLAHOMA CITY - As educators head to the Capitol for a third straight day, Gov. Mary Fallin is giving her thoughts on the statewide walkout.
Over the past several years, budget cuts have negatively impacted numerous state agencies, including the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Despite having less money in the budget, the Oklahoma State Department of Education says that student enrollment continues to rise.
Last month, the Oklahoma Education Association announced that it was seeking a $10,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers over three years, a $5,000 pay raise for support professionals over three years, a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees, and the restoration of funding for education and core government services.
Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that raises teachers’ salaries by an average of $6,100. It also gives $1,250 raises for support staff and adds $50 million in education funding.
However, many educators say they are still going to walk out because lawmakers didn’t restore education funding.
For the past several days, teachers from across the state have flooded the Oklahoma Capitol, pushing lawmakers to find a way to increase education funding.
As teachers prepared for the third day of the walkout, NBC News was able to sit down with Gov. Fallin and ask her thoughts on the walkout.
“Well for the last three years, my state of the state speeches have called for a teacher pay raise. But we finally got it done this year. And I’ll remind people that we didn’t get this way overnight. For the last ten years, which is longer than my term as governor, education has suffered through different national economic downturns and certainly through the energy crisis that we’ve experienced. So, we didn’t get this way overnight. It’s taken a period of time. We certainly took a big step forward in our state’s history to enact the largest pay increase, ever, for our teachers. And we’ll continue to focus on education and what we continue to do to make sure that we’re competitive as a state and having good teachers in the classrooms,” Fallin said.
When asked about whether she felt teachers get enough respect, Gov. Fallin said that the pay raise should answer that question.
"Yes, I think they do. I think we could use a little bit more respect with some of the students and make sure they’re minding their teachers. But I think that teachers are certainly respected out here, because that’s why they got such a big pay raise and also the legislature showed – and I showed – a commitment to education is a priority in the state of Oklahoma and we took the budget from $2.4 billion to almost right under $3 billion, out of $7.5 billion budget. That’s a pretty hefty commitment to Oklahoma education,” she said.
Even though the pay raise was one of the demands, teachers say education funding is really at the heart of the walkout. However, Fallin says there is only so much that lawmakers can do at this point.
“Well, there are other things we have to consider. We have corrections, prisons, health and human services. Certainly, you have infrastructure needs. There are a lot of things in state government that need funding and of course we’re an oil and gas state. It’s been a trying time for those states that do depend on oil and gas and we’re gradually coming out of the economic downturn and we made the commitment to funding education and I hope people appreciate that,” she said.
Fallin said that she hopes the walkout will end on Friday, saying that students need to take their standardized tests by the end of this month in order for schools to receive federal funding.
“It could be dangerous if they stay out too long, that Oklahoma could lose some federal funding for education. And, of course, students could lose opportunities to be able to meet the testing guidelines that they must meet to be able to go on from one grade to the next, or even to graduate from high school," she said.
“Well, I hope it will end this week, so that the teachers get back to classrooms. Students can finish their April testing, which is required by federal guidelines. And also, the ACT, SAT testing, and be able to graduate on time and certainly for those in college to be able to get their teaching certificates because they’ve done their in-room, classroom requirements. There’s a lot of things weighing upon when do we get back to work, as educators. But I hope that they appreciate that we gave the largest pay increase in Oklahoma’s history. We hear that they want more. We hear that there needs to be more done. But this is a great, historic first step,” she added.