OKLAHOMA CITY – School districts across the state are planning to cancel class for a second day so teachers can continue to pressure lawmakers into making a permanent change in education funding.
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.
Over the past two years, officials say the budget for Oklahoma City Public Schools has been cut by over $30 million.
“We canceled textbook purchases, made cuts to arts, athletics [and] instructional materials from the school budgets. It devastated our schools,” then- Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora told News 4 in August.
Despite having less money in the budget, the Oklahoma State Department of Education says that student enrollment continues to rise.
Officials say 694,816 students were enrolled in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade at the start of the school year, which is about 1,000 more than last year.
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.
On Thursday, Gov. Fallin signed HB 1010, which calls for a $447 million tax increase to fund teacher pay raises.
The plan offers an average $6,000 pay increase for all teachers, but it starts at $5,000 for first-year teachers and is expected to gradually increase over time.
However, many educators said they were still going to walk out because lawmakers didn’t restore education funding.
After thousands headed to the Capitol on Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin is now speaking out about the walkout.
“I appreciate teachers coming to the Capitol today to talk with their elected officials. During the past three years, I have called for an increase in teacher salaries. I was very proud to join with leaders of both parties to sign the largest teacher pay increase in Oklahoma’s history. This legislation will provide an average teacher pay raise of $6,000 to our teachers. That is a 16 percent average pay increase for teachers. An additional $50 million was allocated for the state aid funding formula and textbooks. In total, this represents a 19.74 percent increase in the appropriations for public schools.
“Just like Oklahoma families, we are only able to do what our budget allows. Significant revenue-raising measures were approved to make this pay raise and additional school funding possible. We must be responsible not to neglect other areas of need in the state such as corrections and health and human services as we continue to consider additional education funding measures. I look forward to continuing to talk with legislative leaders and teachers as we forge a positive pathway forward for education,” Gov. Fallin said in a statement.