OEA: Lawmakers need to find $50 million more for education funding

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Capitol during the teacher walkout in April

OKLAHOMA CITY – As Oklahoma teachers head to the Capitol for the seventh day, they are telling lawmakers what needs to happen in order for the walkout to end.

Over the past several years, budget cuts have negatively impacted numerous state agencies, including the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“I think it is unacceptable that we have four-day school weeks for our children. You’ve heard me say this but I have visited with major companies looking at moving jobs to our state and I’ve heard from several of them that tell me, ‘Governor, your state’s so poor you only fund schools for four days a week. How can I convince my employers, my businesses to want to come to your state when you won’t fund your schools? And I can’t find an educated, quality, skilled workforce if your people are uneducated in your state,” Gov. Fallin said in May.

Despite having less money in the budget, the Oklahoma State Department of Education says that student enrollment continues to rise.

Last 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 was tentatively planning a teacher walkout for April 2 if legislators didn’t meet those demands.

Earlier this month, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that raises teachers’ salaries by an average of $6,100. It also gives $1,250 raises for support staff and adds $50 million in education funding.

However, many teachers said the bill didn’t do enough for education funding.

After thousands of educators headed to the Capitol last week, lawmakers passed two revenue raising measures.

HB1019XX, also known as the ‘Amazon bill,’ would collect sales taxes from online retailers like Amazon, dedicating $20 million to education. However, officials say that bill would go to fund the education budget that has already passed, not add to it.

Lawmakers also passed HB3375, which allows Las Vegas-style gaming and betting in the state, and is expected to bring in $22 million.

Although those measures are heading to the governor’s desk, the OEA says more needs to be done before the walkout can end.

On Tuesday, the OEA announced that it is encouraging its members to lobby the governor and the House of Representatives to pass two pieces of legislation.

“Lawmakers need to find $50 million more in funding to make good on promises made to Oklahoma students. They have plenty of options, such as SB 1086 (the capital gains bills) or SB 888 ( a cap on wind tax credits). We encourage them to take these last steps!” the OEA wrote on its media notes.

Organizers say they are also encouraging the governor to veto HB 1012XX, which repeals a $5 tax on hotel and motel stays.