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OEA releases ways to fund teacher pay raises

OKLAHOMA CITY – With less than two weeks until a potential teacher walkout, a group of educators is releasing its own plan to fund teacher pay raises.

The Oklahoma Education Association is 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.

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

“The last thing educators want to do is walk out of school on April 2. But believe me, that is exactly what will happen if they don’t see a substantial and adequate pay increase,” said Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers President Ed Allen. “Teachers have been leaving the school district on a regular basis because of the miserable salaries. There was a 25 percent turnover in Oklahoma City in 2017 and it’s mostly because of the low wages. We need to keep and attract great teachers and a good start is to pay them a livable wage.”

After several bills to fund pay raises have failed to receive enough votes in both chambers, the OEA released its own plan to fund the raises.

“When we announced the possibility of closing schools earlier this month we intentionally left out a specific plan because we thought the legislators knew where to find money to properly fund our schools,” said OEA Executive Director David DuVall. “While we appreciate the efforts to find some answers, they have all fallen woefully short.”

The OEA, the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers and the Oklahoma Public Employees Association outlined a number of recurring revenue measures on Friday.

OEA’s suggestions are as follows:

  • $158.7 million through a 5% Gross Production Tax
  • $222.9 million in tobacco taxes
  • $149.1 million in motor fuel taxes
  • $177 million in income tax reform, restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit and elimination of the Capital Gains Deduction.

The organization says other revenue sources could include a tax on alcohol, car tags, ball and dice games at casinos, a hotel/motel tax, sales tax reform and a tax on wind generation.

In a news release, the group claims the measure would result in enough funding to pay for an immediate $6,000 teacher pay raise, a $2,500 raise for education support staff next year, general revenue for schools to reduce class sizes and purchase classroom materials, raise for state employees and money to fund health care services that have been cut in recent months.

“Our students are the real victims of the legislature’s failure to properly fund education and our state core government services,” OEA President Alicia Priest said. “Our class sizes have ballooned to impossible numbers. Our schools can’t buy text books for every child. We’ve dropped not only fine arts and foreign language courses, we’ve also dropped advanced placement classes.”

Priest says the association will move forward with a teacher walkout if the legislature does not fund education by April 1.

“The legislature has the ability to keep us in the classroom on April 2,” she said. “There is time in the next week to pass these measures and invest in our children.”

However, not everyone is on board with the plan.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs argues that OEA’s plan “leads to a dead end.”

“OEA’s plan does not even balance, and it hits vulnerable, low-income and middle-income working Oklahoma families and small business owners while letting big wind corporations and tribes selling tobacco keep cash subsidies they don’t need. It does all this while state revenues are up, coming in above projections, resulting in a surplus for the state. Some of the proposed tax increases – particularly the income tax hikes – would damage our state’s competitiveness for years to come. Others would fail to bring in the predicted revenues, guaranteeing future budget shortfalls. And taxpayers will notice that there is nothing in the plan about better using existing funds. Anyone serious about giving teachers a raise is looking first at money the state and local districts already have, whether it is at the Commissioners of the Land Office, in the Building Fund, or being wasted in giveaways to filmmakers or TSET pet projects.,” OCPA President Johnathan Small said.

Small argues that OCPA’s plan would raise revenue “without doing long-term damage to our state’s economy.”