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OEA announces end to statewide walkout

OKLAHOMA CITY - An Oklahoma Senate leader said he got "mixed messages" from the Oklahoma Education Association as the statewide walkout entered the ninth and final day.

Prior to the OEA announcing an end to the walkout late Thursday afternoon, Senate majority floor leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said the Senate had delivered on 95 percent of the OEA's demands; however, he was unclear on what the OEA was still seeking in terms of funding.

Treat said he met with some OEA members this week.

"I was frustrated by the lack of consistency with their request, even within the meeting, although the meetings have been very cordial," Treat said. "I hear a consistent message that they want more money to the classroom, but that’s about the only consistent thing I hear. I hear a bunch of individual ideas, but nothing behind one single idea that’s keeping people here."

OEA president Alicia Priest said a conversation with Senate leaders Thursday, along with a poll to their members, impacted the decision to end the walkout.

"After our meeting with the republican Senate caucus, they decided they did not want to move forward in any way to have a resolution of support for the future," Priest told reporters at a press conference.

However, there had been changes to the OEA's requests in the final week of the walkout.

On Tuesday, the OEA said they were still seeking an additional $50 million in educational funding but, on Wednesday, OEA vice president Katherine Bishop said the number was adjusted to roughly $25 million after they secured new numbers from the Senate.

Priest said the focus now turns to sending representatives from classrooms to the capitol to continue lobbying for funding needs.

Governor May Fallin issued a statement Thursday evening regarding the end of the walkout, saying:

“Oklahomans and our elected officials have proven they are committed to school children, teachers and educators. We appreciate our professional teachers. I’m glad teachers who participated in the union strike will return to teaching their students. They’ve been out for two weeks, and it’s time for them to get back to school. Student learning at schools affected by the strike has been halted for nearly two weeks at a critical time in the academic year when federal and state testing requirements need to be completed.

Three weeks ago, before the walkout, I gave final approval to an historic raise for teachers, which allows for a $6,100, or 16 percent, pay raise on average. Now, Oklahoma’s teacher pay moves up from the lowest, in average teacher pay, to second in the seven-state region and up to 29th from 49th nationally. Oklahoma’s teacher-pay ranking improves to 12th in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. And last week I signed a bill - approved by legislators before the walkout - which allocates $2.9 billion for common education for the upcoming 2019 fiscal year, which is the largest amount ever appropriated in Oklahoma for K-12 public education and a 19.7 percent increase over this fiscal year’s appropriation for public schools.

I am very proud that Republican lawmakers have led the way on increasing educational expenditures for Oklahoma’s students this session. In addition, they have protected Oklahomans, especially small businesses and farmers, from an irresponsible capital gains tax. The Legislature still has important work to do for the people of Oklahoma before they adjourn, including criminal justice reform and meeting the financial needs of other core services such as public safety, health and human services. I appreciate their ongoing efforts to address all of the priorities in the state.

I want to thank the more than 100 Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers who worked long hours at the state Capitol to keep teachers, visitors and state employees safe. The state employees who work at the Capitol deserve our state’s gratitude for their service, too.”