Oklahoma teacher walkout: Day 6 and no end in sight

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OKLAHOMA CITY -  Thousands of teachers in the state have walked out of the classroom for a sixth day and traveled to the state capitol, urging lawmakers to increase funding for education in the state.

"Yes, we got a raise, and we’re truly grateful for that," said Sarah Hix Tannehill, a 4th grade teacher at Heritage Elementary in Tahlequah. "Yes, that’s historical. But, we're up here for our kids. We need more funding for our classrooms, for our students. We're not up here for ourselves, we’re up here for our kids."

A number of school districts will be closed Tuesday; some through Wednesday, as the walkout stretches into its second week. With the walkout impacting state testing, the state superintendent has extended the state deadline by one week.

"I think we're making progress,  it's tiring," said Brandi Franks, a 3rd grade teacher, also at Heritage Elementary.  "But we have a lot of support from our community and our parents, and so that has made it worthwhile."

But are their continued calls for funding going anywhere?

The state's largest teachers union is calling for Gov. Mary Fallin to veto a recent hotel-motel tax repeal -- a guaranteed repeal needed for the senate to pass a $447 million tax increase for teacher raises and education funding -- and to remove capital gains exemptions for high income earners to return teachers to the classrooms. Fallin has yet to sign the tax repeal, which levies a $5 tax on nightly lodging stays, bringing in an estimated $50 million, annually.

"Is there another revenue measure that we can expect?" asked Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City, on April 4 while hearing a bill to replace the revenue generated by the hotel-motel tax, "While teachers are still here, that will make up for (the money lost by the hotel-motel tax repeal)?"

"Representative," replied appropriations and budget chairman Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, "I do not believe that you will see another revenue measure on this floor."

Legislators have said it's unlikely that another revenue bill will be heard, but that doesn't mean teachers efforts have been for nothing.

"To say wasting time, I wouldn't put those words to it," said Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, when asked if teachers are wasting their time at the capitol. "I’d say it's always good to develop a relationship with those people who are supposed to represent you in the senate and house, and hope we continue to dialogue."

"Their voices have been heard. The change has been made -- the change was made before they got here, by one week -- and changes continue to be made since they got here."

The senate sent an online sales tax and tribal table gaming expansion legislation to the governor last week, with future revenue being dedicated to state education funds.

Some Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation that would reform wind tax credits in the state, which proponents say would bring in an additional $70 million to state coffers. That legislation narrowly passed out of a house committee late Monday afternoon and is now available to be taken up by the house, however its future there remains uncertain.

"The issue that keeps getting most of the attention is the capital gains reform, particularly," said Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, D-Norman.

The senate passed the removal of capital gains exemptions with bipartisan support last month. The bill currently sits with house leadership, which has said it will not take up the legislation. Democrats have attempted numerous procedural moves on the house floor over the last six days to bring it up for a vote only to fail, mostly along party lines.

"The only alternative I have seen to the capital gains reform is for the teachers to just go home," said Sparks. "And I don’t think that’s going to happen, any time soon."

"I think there’s a lot more our legislators can do. This whole house can do a lot more than what they're doing," said Michaella Stricker, a first-year teacher at Heritage Elementary.

"I fear that we will lose. I fear that we will lose more," Stricker said. "If it takes a long time, that’s fine, hard work is what gets you to that goal, and we're going to keep going, we're going to keep pushing and the good guys win in the end."

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