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“The fight goes on,” Organizations speak out about passage of teacher pay raise bill

OKLAHOMA CITY – After a teacher pay raise measure was approved by the House and the Senate, several organizations are now speaking out regarding the bill.

Earlier this month, the Oklahoma Education Association announced that it 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 didn’t increase teacher and staff pay.

If the walkout occurs, schools across the state have announced that they will close.

HB1010XX, a $447 million tax increase plan, passed the House late Monday evening by a vote of 79-19. It needed 76 votes to pass as a revenue-raising measure, which had not been done since 1990.

House 1010XX includes:

  • 5 percent gross production tax (GPT)
  • Motor fuel tax: 3 cents on unleaded, 6 cents on diesel
  • $1 tobacco tax, rather than $1.50 as previously proposed
  • $5 hotel/motel tax on any room booked in Oklahoma.

The plan offers an average $6,000 pay increase for all teachers, but it starts at $5,000 for first-year teachers and is expected to gradually increase over time.

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma Senate narrowly approved a funding package to help pay for teacher pay raises. The bill, which passed by a 36-10 vote, now head to the governor’s desk.

“Thanks to members of the state Senate, our teachers are much closer to a desperately needed and long-overdue pay raise, one that will finally make us regionally competitive and help turn around a crippling teacher shortage. I am grateful for the strong bipartisan support on behalf of Oklahoma’s schoolkids,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.  “This pay raise propels Oklahoma to second in the region for average teacher pay. Nationally, we will move from the basement to better than 19 other states. While this legislation is far from all that needs to be done to reverse years of education funding cuts, it is a tremendous step forward. There is no one more important than the teacher in classroom instruction, and House Bill 1010-XX will be critical in retaining and recruiting teachers. This vote is a bright light for public education in Oklahoma.”

While it is a good step, some say it still falls short of the goal.

“The passage of HB1010xx is a truly historic moment in Oklahoma. This movement, fueled by the courageous acts of teachers, parents, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, custodians, and community members has forced this legislature to finally act. This historic investment of half a billion dollars will benefit a generation of Oklahoma students and will be felt in every community across this state,” said OEA President Alicia Priest. “While this is major progress, this investment alone will not undo a decade of neglect. Lawmakers have left funding on the table that could be used immediately to help Oklahoma students.There is still work to do to get this legislature to invest more in our classrooms. That work will continue Monday when educators descend on the Capitol.”

Priest says the deal is not perfect, and says the OEA is still working with the legislature to meet the rest of its demands. She says the bill does not address the cuts to education funding, which is affecting schools across the state.

Priest says that OEA will support its members in a walkout until they decide to head back to the classroom.

The Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers agrees that the bill is a good step forward, but more needs to be done.

“Teachers’ voices were heard and reflected in this bill, which acknowledges that educators have been woefully underpaid and undervalued and that schools have been grossly underfunded. While the Oklahoma City AFT accepts this package of pay raises, tax increases and education investment, we consider it a down payment. Families need much more to feel assured that schools can recruit and keep quality educators and that kids get the resources they need to succeed. The fight goes on, especially to pass the November referendum to raise the gross production tax on oil and gas to 7 percent,” said Ed Allen, president of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers.

Professional Oklahoma Educators says the bill allows teachers to “continue to do what they love best.”

“The passage of HB 1023XX and the measures to fund it are truly historic and transformational for Oklahoma and we are proud to have been part of the solution. POE members met with legislative leaders last week for a round table discussion to voice their concerns and ask questions, and legislators listened. POE worked with House members to create the 60 in 6 plan, parts of which were incorporated into HB 1023XX. The plan provides every teacher with a pay raise in the upcoming school year, rewarding our tenured teachers with a slightly larger increase than that of a beginning teacher. Our members are grateful to legislators for listening and then taking action, showing they respect Oklahoma’s teachers and the vital role they play in shaping our state’s future through our children. While there is still work to be done to complete our 60 in 6 plan and to fully fund education in Oklahoma, we know that our teachers are relieved to continue to do what they love best, and that’s educating the kids of Oklahoma,” a statement from the group read.