Oklahoma senator speaking out after measure to fund teacher pay raises fails

OKLAHOMA CITY – While teachers across the state are planning to walkout of classrooms next month, lawmakers say they are working to find a way to fund a pay raise.

The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) has sought 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.

OEA announced that it is tentatively planning a teacher walkout for April 2 if legislators didn’t increase teacher and staff pay.

On Wednesday night, the Oklahoma Senate passed bills that focused on a teacher pay raise and earned income tax credits. However, lawmakers weren’t able to reach the required number of votes to pass a revenue bill that funds the measures.

SB 133, the teacher pay raise bill, would have applied a 12.7% increase to minimum salaries, totaling approximately a $4,000 increase to the minimum starting salary, along with step increases for length of teaching, which passed 35-11.

The OEA immediately spoke out against the plan.

However, voting on HB 1033XX, a revenue bill, was closed on Wednesday night after the vote stood at 34-12 for more than an hour. Revenue measures require 3/4 majority to pass. The teacher pay raise bill and the EITC bill were contingent on the revenue bill passing.

HB1033XX would be a $1.00/pack tax increase on cigarettes, a $0.06% increase on motor diesel and gasoline, and an increase of the Gross Production Tax to 4% for the first 36 months of production. The cigarette tax money would have gone toward teacher pay the first year, then a healthcare fund after that.

Now, an Oklahoma senator is speaking out about the bill failing.

Sen. Micheal Bergstrom says Senate Democrats told him that since the measure didn't meet the OEA's demands, Democrats wouldn't vote for the bill.

"One Democratic Senator told me that they couldn't support the bill because the Oklahoma Educators Association (OEA) doesn't want them to. After all, the OEA is the one making the ask. This is the same OEA that joined House Republicans a couple months ago at a press conference to support essentially the same plan as being good for education. So it seems that a $5,000 pay increase for teachers isn't enough. They want $10,000, despite the fact that the 12.7% increase we have presented raises the average teacher salary higher than is found in any of the surrounding states, except Texas. They want a billion-and-a-half dollars for education, or nothing.

That, despite the fact that over 50 percent of our appropriated dollars go to education, despite the fact that we have other pressing issues to deal with, like the fact that our prisons are at 113 percent capacity. Despite the fact that other essential services are crying for funding, everything from senior nutrition to our medical schools.

But apparently if the OEA wants all or nothing, the Democrats march in lock step. And, of course, there is the politics. With state-wide elections coming up in November, it seems that the Democrats prefer to shut down good policy so they can have a campaign issue in the fall. That is unfortunate for Oklahoma," Sen. Bergstrom said in a news release.

Bergstrom says he believes the revenue measure has a chance of passing in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.