‘Fruitful discussions’ continue between educators, legislators as teacher walkout ends its eighth day

OKLAHOMA CITY - Republican house leadership says discussions are continuing between lawmakers and a state teachers union to end the teacher walkout, closing its eighth day Wednesday.

Demonstrators packing capitol hallways and the house chamber, ahead of another day of normal legislative work, save for the hopes of educators and their supports to ensure additional school funding now and in the future.

"It's dire," said Vicky Yarholar, a grandparent of a student at Deer Creek Schools, and former educator. "It's a problem, where do you get that money?"

Rep. Scott Inman, in what's become commonplace over the last week, attempted three separate procedural moves to bring capital gains, income tax increase and cost of living adjustment legislation to the floor, with each attempt failing mostly along party lines.

"I think we need to have a nice, bipartisan conversation in front of all these folks, instead of behind closed doors," said Inman, D-Del City, calling for a recess, but leaving microphones open for lawmakers to talk with those in the gallery. That motion also failed.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers union which is part of talks with lawmakers, is asking for an additional $25 million in funding, a different figure from the day before.

"We were able to get more secure numbers from the Senate (Tuesday) and their exact appropriations that they've done so we`re 95 percent to our goal," said OEA Vice President Katherine Bishop, adding the OEA feels more secure after the signing of online sales tax and gaming expansion bills.

A $447 million tax increase package to fund teacher pay raises and, in part, the $2.9 billion education budget have already been signed into law. However, there are efforts by an anti-tax group to put the tax increases up for repeal on the November ballot.

Two Republicans filed six bills Tuesday to direct funding towards education, without using tax increases.

"Massive taxation is not necessarily what the state of Oklahoma wants," said Rep. Tess Teague, R-Choctaw. "So we're trying to come up with other ways to get revenue flowing back into our classrooms, back to our teachers, back to our funding formula."

Word of a possible resolution Wednesday remained just that.

"There have been fruitful discussions with OEA," said House Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, who is involved in the talks. "It shouldn't be lost what the Oklahoma teachers have accomplished. Received $440 million to education without cuts to other state agencies."

A number of districts have announced they will remain closed Thursday, while others have begun the process of bringing students back into the classroom.