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“There’s more work to be done,” Thousands flood Oklahoma State Capitol over funding issues

OKLAHOMA CITY - Teachers, education advocates, students and state employees have flooded the Oklahoma State Capitol on Monday over funding issues.

The walkout comes days after the Oklahoma legislature passed a revenue bill, including $447 million worth of taxes, to fund pay raises for teachers, support staff and state employees. There's also $33 million for textbooks.

However, teachers tell News 4 the walkout was not about the pay raises but about their students instead.

"It’s more than the numbers. It’s more than a raise. We need funding for our kids, and we need to be respected as professionals," said Ellen Kraft, a teacher at Truman Primary in Norman. "You can’t cut 28 percent, and then fill it with half of that and call it a day. There’s more work to be done than that."

Kathy Benge, a librarian at Longfellow Junior High School in Enid, said the funding for her school of about 600 students doesn't cut it.

"For me, the reason I’m here today has nothing to do with pay raise. It has everything to do with the kids that I serve and the programs that are state mandated that are not funded," Benge said. "Oklahoma state legislation says that a library our size for a school our size should have two full-time adults working there. It’s just me. I’m doing the job of two people for the meager price of one."

Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville said the state capitol is the "people's building" but he would rather see the students and teachers inside classrooms.

"That’s what they were hired to do - be in the classroom and teach," Cleveland said. "There’s a funding issue. I know that teachers are saying the bill they got, HB1010XX, is going to be voted on again next year and it's not fully funded, and that’s not true."

Moving forward, Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City said they are looking at other forms of funding.

"There’s talk about more robust dynamic use of local property tax. There’s also talk about the market place fairness bill that you heard us talk about last week," Treat said. "Rest assured we will fund and fully fund teacher pay raise. On the classroom size, we’re still dedicated to trying to make sure we improve education on a local level, looking at how can they use their resources more innovatively."

It was not just teachers at the capitol. State employees also joined the walkout.

"The $2,000 that they were putting on the table, that does not make up the insurance that has gone up on our paychecks and it barely covers one of my bills," said DHS worker Courtney Fox.

Fox works with Adult Protective Services at DHS.

Early Monday morning, the Oklahoma Public Employee Association (OPEA) said they are requesting the lawmakers for the following:

  • Pass and fund a $2,500 pay raise in FY2019 for each state employee
  • Pass and fund a $2,500 pay raise for FY2020 for each state employee (combination would cost $211 million over two years)
  • Begin funding restoration of the millions of dollars cut from state agency budgets during the past eight years

"We just want to be able to restore those cuts, so we can do our job properly and investigate the way we need to investigate and so those services will be available for the people of Oklahoma," Fox said.

We asked lawmakers if either the pay raises from OPEA or the restoration of funds would be feasible.

Senate minority leader John Sparks, D-Norman said there are already bills in the works for restoration.

"I mean we have bills teed up that are ready to go. We just need to put them up on the votes," Sparks said. "Senator [Dave] Rader's in particular on the capitol gains deductions is one in particular that would fit this bill."

However, some Senate republicans tell News 4 the kind of raises state employees are seeking would require more revenue.

"Right now, at this juncture, I don’t see that we would be able to do it unless we have a lot of growth in the economy, which we are in the growth economy," said Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee. "We may have $200 million more to spend next year through growth, but you don’t want to allocate money you don’t have."

Advocates tell us they'll stay at the capitol "as long as they have to."